Free Markets, Free People


Ezra Klein’s rather silly defense of the 17th Amendment (updates)

Ezra Klein seems to be bragging somewhat about something that frankly makes him look foolish.  Apparently he appeared on C-SPAN with Heritage’s Brian Darling.  Darling made the point that the Senate, by design, was supposed to be a voice of the states.  Klein disputes that, I assume, because he apparently doesn’t know his history. 

Responding to a questioner, [Brian Darling] went so far as to say he’d consider repeal of the 17th amendment, which would mean that senators would again be elected by state legislatures rather than voters.

I’ve never understood this sort of thing, and said so in the panel. The Founders didn’t wisely orient the Senate around states. They pragmatically oriented the Senate around states. But now that we’ve been the United States of America for a while and none of the states seem likely to secede, the fact that California has 69 times more people than Wyoming but the same representation in the Senate is an offensive anachronism, at least to Californians.

Secession?  Where did that come from?

It is certainly true, given that remark, that he doesn’t understand  Darling’s argument. Here’s Klein’s argument at the link in the cite:

In Philadelphia in 1787, the smaller states favored the New Jersey Plan — one chamber with equal representation per state — while James Madison argued for two chambers, both apportioned by population, which would benefit his Virginia.

The delegates finally settled on the Connecticut Compromise, or the Great Compromise. Seats in the lower chamber would be apportioned by population (with some residents counting more than others, of course) while seats in the upper chamber would be awarded two per state.

The idea was to safeguard states’ rights at a time when the former colonies were still trying to get used to this new country of theirs. But the big/small divide was nothing like what we have today. Virginia, the biggest of the original 13 states, had 538,000 people in 1780, or 12 times as many people as the smallest state, Delaware.

That version, I assume, is one he’s cobbled together to support his view that it was all a  pragmatic compromise.  But, of course, it wasn’t.  It was instead, a very carefully designed system of government.  And he misrepresents Madison’s view on the subject completely. 

How do I know? Because I’ve read Madison’s writing on the subject in the Federalist papers.

The debate at the time, the concern I should say, was transitioning from the Articles of Confederation to government under the Constitution.  All knew it meant a more powerful government at a national level and all were quite wary of that. Remember, those writing the Constitution were state delegations.  THAT was the great concern of theirs given the oppressive yoke of imperial England they had just removed from their necks.  All, while they may have differed on the structure – and that’s where the arguments took place – wanted a a more FEDERAL government than a NATIONAL government.

After outlining what a republican form of government is, Madison notes the concerns of those who think the Constitution will make it a NATIONAL government vs a FEDERAL government by outlining the differences between the national and federal types.  Here’s Madison in Federalist 39:

"But it was not sufficient," say the adversaries of the proposed Constitution, "for the convention to adhere to the republican form. They ought, with equal care, to have preserved the FEDERAL form, which regards the Union as a CONFEDERACY of sovereign states; instead of which, they have framed a NATIONAL government, which regards the Union as a CONSOLIDATION of the States."

So there, in the hand of the man who drafted the Constitution, are the working definitions of the two terms as they understood them.  Note how the FEDERAL form is defined.  As you read through the rest of Federalist 39, you’ll find Madison discussing both the NATIONAL model and the FEDERAL model and pointing out some of both are necessary.  They had a purely FEDERAL form under the Articles of Confederation.  It didn’t work well.  They knew that had to put some national powers into the hands of the new government, but they feared such a type of government, so they wanted to limit the scope of that power.  He specifically addresses the Congress and how it was purposely designed to limit the power of a national government while importantly preserving some federalism:

The House of Representatives will derive its powers from the people of America; and the people will be represented in the same proportion, and on the same principle, as they are in the legislature of a particular State. So far the government is NATIONAL, not FEDERAL. The Senate, on the other hand, will derive its powers from the States, as political and coequal societies; and these will be represented on the principle of equality in the Senate, as they now are in the existing Congress. So far the government is FEDERAL, not NATIONAL.

That one paragraph, in its simplicity, points out for those who will take the time to read and understand it – something Klein may wish to do – that the Constitution wasn’t some “pragmatic” compromise.  Klein seems unable to understand that the purpose of the Senate is to provide coequal political representation to the states.  That representation was to act as a brake on both the national government and the people (another “national” entity) who were represented in the House.  The equal representation of the states in the Senate was also meant to prevent the larger states from running roughshod over the smaller states, something which happens quite frequently in the House.  What Klein seems to want is another House in the Senate.  He seems totally unfamiliar with why the Senate was designed as it was.  Just read his thoughts on how he’d structure it and you’ll see what I mean.

Madison considered the final product to be a necessary mix, not a pragmatic compromise, of federal and national power conferred on the government in order to make it work properly but keep the national power in check.  The mix of both was designed to give the government the necessary powers it lacked under the Articles of Confederation while also, and this is critical to the success of that design, preserving the rights and power of the states.  

The proposed Constitution, therefore, is, in strictness, neither a national nor a federal Constitution, but a composition of both. In its foundation it is federal, not national; in the sources from which the ordinary powers of the government are drawn, it is partly federal and partly national; in the operation of these powers, it is national, not federal; in the extent of them, again, it is federal, not national; and, finally, in the authoritative mode of introducing amendments, it is neither wholly federal nor wholly national.

The 17th Amendment destroyed that design and balance. Look at the mess that has wrought.  Repealing the 17th Amendment would begin to walk the national government back to this mix of government designed by the founders.  Since the amendment’s passage, the government has shifted to a wholly national government and states have essentially lost their sovereignty and their rights.  We have paid the price and suffer the consequences.

There are certainly other contributors to that situation, but the 17th Amendment is one of the biggest contributors.  Klein needs to acquaint himself with the actual design of the Constitutional government built by the founders like James Madison.  There’s an entire book that will do that for him – “The Federalist Papers”.  If he’d read them, he might not look quite so foolish the next time he attempts to pontificate on what the founders thought.

UPDATE: Great minds think alike, I suppose – Brian Darling’s rebuttal (replete with Federalist 39 reference).

UPDATE II: James Joyner and Steven Taylor join the fray. I’d only say to Dr. Taylor’s assertion that Madison’s writings in Fed.39 were a "post-hoc rationalization", that they could just as easily represent a "post-hoc realization" that they had in fact designed a very good model for government and thus the "eloquent" argument. Personally I’ve never been able to argue eloquently for anything in which I didn’t believe in passionately.

~McQ

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79 Responses to Ezra Klein’s rather silly defense of the 17th Amendment (updates)

  • To throw in a little more history to add to the muddle …
    Prior to the ratification of the US Constitution, Delaware “The First State” was part of Pennsylvania.  It just up and declared itself a “ratified state” before the rest of Pennsylvania.  Since the previous “controlling legal authority” had been cast off, there was nothing to stop them.
    I wonder if Democrats really want to open this “Pandora’s Box”

    • Californian, Ezra Klien, obviously thinks that California struck a “bad deal” when it entered the Union.
      While Pennsylvania colony managed to get 4 seats (PA+DE) in the Senate, poor California only got 2.
      Californians have been talking for years about a North California and South California (especially when the talk about water).  Unfortunately, they lacked the “vision” to shape their future properly.

    • You cannot really make that argument, given that Delaware had separate representatives at the Continental Congress that adopted the Declaration of Independence, separate representation under the Articles of Confederation, and separate representatives at the Constitutional Convention.  Indeed, the Constitution explicitly allocates Delaware its own separate representatives as a state.

      And if you do a quick count, the “Thirteen Colonies” would only be twelve if Delaware had really been considered a part of Pennsylvania prior to 1788.  Quick Questions  — how many stars and how many stripes on the first flag?  Could the Founders count?

  • As if Ezra cared about any of the points you raised. He *wants* power to be concentrated instead of dispersed so really, really smart guys like him (who somehow do really, really dumb things like starting Journolist) can tell the rest of us what to do. The rest is just window dressing to rationalize what he wants. 

    How did this ignorant twit get such a high-profile gig, anyway? I’ve never read anything he’s written that showed any great presence of mind, historical acumen, or analytical skills. He’s just a lefty propagandist. Sure, I know the Post is a left propaganda organ, but didn’t they once expect a certain level of experience and ability from their leftist shills before elevating them to such a high-profile?

    I just can’t figure out why some of these people are taken seriously by anyone. Another example is Fareed Zakaria. Everything I’ve ever read by him has been generic pap with nothing of substance behind it, and of course it all somehow, someway cast leftism in a good light.

    • Ezra Klein is still a child.  He thinks like a child and writes like a child.   Klein fancies himself a former precocious child, but he is wrong.  He is a current precocious child.
      As Rags points out, for the left, two Senators per state is a barrier to what they want to accomplish.  You can be quite sure if the big states were Conservative and the small states were liberal, the left would be pontificating on the wisdom of the founders in allocating two votes per state regardless of the perceived “unfairness”.  Similarly, if the Republicans were to win 55-60 seats by 2012, the filibuster will once again be the darling of the left and the wisest rule ever established by the Senate.

  • the fact that California has 69 times more people than Wyoming but the same representation in the Senate is an offensive anachronism, at least to Californians.

    There is so much wrong with Klein’s “thinking”, it bears a lot of exposition.  But let’s start here.
    How does Klein divine this?  On a list of the top 10 things the people of California are concerned about…or “offended by”…where does this really rank?
    Are Californians so “offended” they are on the verge of secession if we don’t change the Senate?
    Or is it rather the truth that the Collective has found a Senate a hindrance in the past two years of wild ass imposition of Collectivism, and are trying to find ways to screw with it???

  • Klein’s “thinking” (does he really do any) is that you are supposed to say …

    Oh, good God, those poor Californians and New Yorkers are so screwed, but changing the Constitution is so damn hard … I know … let’s get rid of the filibuster and it will lessen the impact on those poor pathetic folks.

    … I say … let’s trade it for a permanent limit on taxation .. say 18% to 20% by the federal government .. and a minimum tax of $1. on everybody.

    • … and an end to federally mandated state and local programs and taxation.

    • Maybe we should just use the same simple thinking that Klien employs …

      let’s put on a show !!!

    • I don’t want to trade.  I want the Constitution restored, and repeal of the 17th would be  fine as a move in that direction.
      As an historical question, I’ve always assumed (and only that) the Senate was intended as a republican analog of the House of Lords, which sort of fits with the whole “more deliberate body” thing.  Any insights on that?

  • Interesting in this context…
    http://hindenblog1.blogspot.com/2010/09/burn-most-americans-want-term-limits.html
    A Fox News poll says 78% of voters want term limits…with which I agree.

    • I believe in a limit on consecutive terms.  This helps to alleviate some of the Constitutional issues, but does breakup the incumbent advantage.

  • Identify the obstacle to your scheme and then create reasons to change the system. Liberal ends justify illiberal means.
    The states are just as much to blame as the federal government. Rarely have they sued in court to protect their powers. More often they have been bought off by federal tax dollars and other benefits. The courts haven’t helped much either. The idea of defined and limited federal powers is something of a joke. With federal and state finances under pressure, the corrupt bargain is coming unglued. The federal government, unable to buy compliance, is now dictating subservience. The most recent example is the health care law that prescribes increased state support of Medicare as a means of conserving federal funds. It’s not out of the question that the top 3 line items in state budgets will become Medicare, state employee salaries and state employee pensions. I think tea party activism, as a general proposition, is going to have more influence at the state and local levels in the long term. There are more of us than there are of them. (my nomination for tea party first principle)

    • Restoring the ideal of federalism is exactly the process you describe; on every level of government, take office, insist on adhering to the Constitution, and oblige all other levels of government to do likewise, resisting any effort to do anything else via all means available.
      The money is gone.  Rather, it is past gone, and we are transferring our folly onto the backs of our children, grandchildren, and beyond.
      One GREAT result of restoring the Senate to pre-seventeenth composition would be to end the incursion of the Feds on the power and purses of the states.  A Senator representing the interests of  a state…NOT the Federal power…would be prone to fight the kind of crap we’ve seen now for decades.

  • I’ve read this argument over and over again and it doesn’t make a lick of sense. How does having legislators, elected by people in a state, choosing Senators make the situation any better than skipping the middleman and having people in a state simply elect Senators? What is somehow superior in this scenario?

    In states like Oregon, the situation would be significantly worse in some ways. Oregon is a big state with a small corridor of heavily populated areas. Those areas control state politics and the state legislature (there’s fewer than a dozen Republicans in it at the moment).

    If you took the ability of individual districts to pick their Senators, then the legislature would pick them – which means Portland, Eugene, and Salem would pick them. The entire state’s representation in the Senate would be controlled by three cities, ignoring the entire rest of the state and their interests.

    the whole “repeal the 17th amendment and things would be better” argument is patently absurd with the slightest rational examination.

    • Dude!  Individual districts don’t “pick” Senators.  The big population centers you name ELECT them STATEWIDE if they overwhelm the other areas, because they are elected in statewide elections.

      • I think you’re missing my point.  If you put the election of senators in the hands of the legislature, the big cities have even more power over who ends up there, not less.  Giving people in rural districts direct vote for their senators means that the big cities in other districts have no say in who gets elected there.  If the legislature picked these Senators, then the cities would control all the districts, not just theirs.

        • Respectfully, I think you have it exactly backwards.  The power of population centers is RESTRICTED by the idea of districts…which is republican.
          The population centers do not control “all the districts”…which is the whole idea.

    • The argument is that if they are appointed by the state legislatures, they will be more concerned with what the state legislature thinks than the people. So, when the Feds attempt to push costs to the states, even the Democratic state legislators would oppose this, or at least more so than the general populace who might not be aware of the effects.

      • I can see an argument that professional politicians might be more aware of political events than the general populace, but that’s true at the state level too, and its true for the House.  The fact is, politically ignorant people elect the people who represent them at the state legislative level, so I’m not sure you’d gain much.

    • The Senators are beholden to the state (legislators and probably governor) not the people for their office. Therefore their job is to represent the best interests of the state at the national legislative level, not the wishes or wants of the people – that’s what their Congressional representative does.

      That would give the states much more power than they now have. Imagine trying to jam some of the mandates down on the states as the federal government now routinely does. Imagine ObamaCare passing a mandate and 26 states saying no. End of discussion as 52 Senators from those states are going to vote against it. Not what the Democratic or Republican party wants – what the states want.

      Remember the Constitution was written by a collection of state delegations which realized they had to cede some power to a national government. But they also demanded that state’s rights and sovereignty be protected. That – if you read the Fed 39 quotes I put in the post, was the entire point of the Senate – it was the “federalizing” body whose focus was what was best for the states. The dynamic tension created by the people (House) vs. the states (Senate) vs. the national government (executive) was supposed to keep the power of the national government in check, cool the populist tendencies of the people and give a voice to the states.

      The popular election of Sentors makes them just like the House, stills the voice of the states and has allowed parties to take over the political process while seeing the national government grow unchecked.

      • The popular election of Sentors makes them just like the House, stills the voice of the states and has allowed parties to take over the political process while seeing the national government grow unchecked.

        Actually, as I noted below, it is WORSE than that.  They become a TOTALLY democratically selected body…COMPLETELY OPPOSITE the design of the Founders…and MUCH WORSE (or more democratic) than Representatives (whose districts limit pure democracy’s influence).

      • I know many union (CWA) members who would like to have the equivalent of the 17th Amendment apply to their national union officers, who are now elected by the local officers.

      • I not so sure they would lose the loyalty to Democratic Party or Republican Party thing.  Party politics are alive and well in me state.  The intra-state representatives would be just as corruptible as the senators themselves.

        And if it was left to state legislatures alone, would Scott Brown been elected in Mass.?  More likely a Deep ceded Party apparatchik and more likely a Democratic one.

        If there’s any election people are inclined to just vote the straight party ticket because they’re not familiar with the actual politicians, its state representatives.

        I just don’t see putting control back to the states as curing the disease of Party politics.  It may help other things.  But not that.

        • I think you’re viewing it through today’s lens. Consider that prior to the enactment of the 17th (early 1900s as I recall), the federal government was fairly small and the states held much of their power. Their senators represented their interests which I think went a long way in keeping the federal government small. And the parties, while certainly in existence, didn’t really hold sway like they do now.

          • Exactly my position.  IF the states selected Senators via a republican system, people would pay MORE attention to who they elected at the state level.
            The dynamic would change in profound ways, on several levels.

          • Technically being elected directly from the people of that state, you’d think that would keep them loyal to the interest of the State.  But perhaps not to favor of State Government.  I’m not sure I want the latter.  You would have states like CA and NY vote themselves into solvency via Federal Taxes.

            I think to a degree its a coincidence in the change of accountability is because of the Constitutional change.  The real drivers for a lack of local accountability is the influence of national (and some cases interenational) campaign money and a media that has a lopsided loyalty to a single dogma.

            I don’t see the state level being insulated from either effect.

            If you want politicians to be loyal to their constituency, make campaign contributions exclusive to that constituency.  That would handle the money problem.  The media would be a more difficult nut to crack.

          • Technically being elected directly from the people of that state, you’d think that would keep them loyal to the interest of the State.

            Unless the interests of the state are uppermost in the people’s mind, I see no reason why that would “keep them loyal to the interest of the State.” They wouldn’t owe their job to the State, and that has a much better chance of keeping them loyal to the State than the whims of the people.

          • You would have states like CA and NY vote themselves into solvency via Federal Taxes.

            You mean 2 CA Senators are going to overwhelm 48 others somehow?  Crips!!!

          • I meant 98…coffee…need coffeeeeee.

          • “You mean 2 CA Senators are going to overwhelm 48 others somehow?  Crips!!!”
            Nope I mean 26 states will vote themselves federal funding.

      • I don’t really see how making Senators more directly accountable to state legislatures in any way would change how they would vote and act.  If anything, some states (like Oregon, for instance) would become even more radically leftist.  I think the founders had a theory, but in practice it didn’t end up working any better and had its own unique drawbacks – thus the amendment.

        Repealing the 17th amendment would not generate more state sovereignty, not any more than having a 9th and 10th amendment already in the constitution does so today.  It would just make rural areas have a smaller voice in congress.

  • Christopher TaylorHow does having legislators, elected by people in a state, choosing Senators make the situation any better than skipping the middleman and having people in a state simply elect Senators? What is somehow superior in this scenario?

    I agree.  I’m not sure that ending direct election would make much difference.  Countrywide Dodd, Babsie Boxer, Jean-Francois, and the rest of those morons or somebody like them would still be there.  The problem, as I see it, is not HOW we go about electing our various representatives but rather WHAT we expect them to do when they get to DC.  So long as the majority of our people expect the federal government to be all things to all people, to be Uncle Sugar who solves all their problems and satisfies all their wants, it is immaterial how we go about deciding who will run the show.  Consider the Cornhusker Kickback or the Louisiana Purchase: I suggest that those would still have happened – indeed, MORE states would have gotten similar deals – if the senators were answerable to greedy and rapacious state legislatures rather than the people of their states.

    I’m not sure that term limits would really help, either.  Yes, we wouldn’t have to look at the same crop of thieves and morons for years on end, but I think we can safely assume that, even if people like SanFran Nan or Bawney Fwank and the rest were turned out of the Congress, the fools they represent would send others just like them to be a plague on the country.

    The true genius of the Constitution lies in the concept of limited, enumerated powers.  If the Congress has only a few things it can do n (with a president and Supreme Court ready, willing and able to say “NO!” if it tries to do more), then it doesn’t matter too much who the members of Congress are, how they get their cushy jobs, or how long they stay in office.  It was never intended that a representative from Massachusetts could make so much damned trouble for the people of North Carolina, or a senator from California cause so much mischief in Michigan.

    • I think you’re mistaken, as noted above, and here’s why with a little more elaboration.
      Sen. Schmuck (currently) returns to his state-wide electorate every six years.  He copiously lies to people who don’t pay much attention to politics (most voters), misrepresenting his actual record and beliefs while in office (see; McAnus, John).  He brags about the pork with which  he’s larded his state, which sounds pretty good to a lot of the voters.  He will rinse and repeat this cycle essentially for the rest of his if he has enough popular support.  That, and NOT being CONVICTED of a serious crime are about all he needs do.
      Remove the Seventeenth; now Schmuck needs to report to the legislators of his state at the end of his term.  He must justify his record to people who PROFESSIONALLY follow politics, AND WHO ASPIRE TO REPLACE HIM.  He must justify to them his idiot votes that have brought them a rash of grief, trying to figure WHAT…and how to PAY FOR…the newest Federal mandate has wrought in their state.  He serves at the good pleasure of the majority of the state whatever, and that is subject to both change, and to finding him a pain in the ass (even if he is a like partisan).  Hence, he is MUCH more likely to be replaced (or, if he’s Abe Lincoln reincarnate, be retained by both parties).
      Simplistic?  Perhaps, but I am a trial lawyer.  We present simplicity when we can.

      • Remove the Seventeenth; now Schmuck needs to report to the legislators of his state at the end of his term.  He must justify his record to people who PROFESSIONALLY follow politics, AND WHO ASPIRE TO REPLACE HIM

        >>> I dunno.  State govts are probably even more corrupt. I’d rather have to have my Senator come here and justify his conduct to ME then to just solidify his station by engaging in political horsetrading with the crooks in the statehouse.

        • I think the opposite is likely true, but say it is true your state’s pols are more corrupt than DC’s (almost laughable when you say it); whose fault is that, and isn’t it easier to change?

          •  but say it is true your state’s pols are more corrupt than DC’s (almost laughable when you say it); whose fault is that, and isn’t it easier to change?

            >>> Actually not really believe it or not. Machines get stronger as you go downwards towards grassroots.   Look at IL.  If the Senate Seat was appointed by the State Legislature, you’d better believe that it would be a directly purchased seat (as opposed to indirectly purchased by paying for lots of ad time).

            The Senate shouldn’t be a political patronage position.

          • Why? It would at least represent the interests of the state from which the Senator came and certainly help contain the federal government.

          • say it is true your state’s pols are more corrupt than DC’s (almost laughable when you say it)
            Just came back  from talking to my state rep.
            As bad as politics is bad at the state level, everything that is “touched” by DC is worse

          • Its as easy to change state legislators as it is federal.  Anyone who thinks that their state legislators are better informed and more ethically pure than federal needs to spend more time with their state guys.  Seriously.

          • Well, I disagree.  So did the Founders, and thinkers since.  The closer to the people the pols are, the more they are apt to be responsive and more readily disposed of if they are rotten.  In many states, they are not full-time pols, and that keeps them grounded to a great degree.

          • “Why? It would at least represent the interests of the state from which the Senator came and certainly help contain the federal government”

            >>>> In a perfect world yes.  But more likely, it would represent the interests of a few key influence-peddlers in the State Senate, which I’m sure would be quite different from the legitimate interests of the state.

             

          • As compared to what we have now (another House), I’ll take it.

          • Well, shark, we go back to the adage that we get what we ask for…or put up with.  I see likely things exactly opposite your vision, but I know yours is possible…if people put up with it.  That, I think, is the whole point here.  If people exercise themselves on the state level, my point above is right.  If they are supine in the face of the corruption of their state government, nothing is going to make government better.  I, like the Founders, think people are quite capable of governing themselves well.

          • As compared to what we have now (another House), I’ll take it.

            >>> LOL, well yeah, since we’re dealing with such low standards at this point, I guess that’s valid

        • Would this system mean more people would pay attention to State Legislatures?

          • I think it would auger in that direction.  Selecting a Senator would approach the selection of a Supreme on the Federal level…something that the voters might pay MUCH more attention to in electing their state guys.

    • Ultimately that’s what it comes down to: the problem isn’t a lack of state legislators having more control over the Senate, its a culture which basically ignores the constitution and the intent of the founders for the shape of the nation and its government.  There has to be a deep, basic worldview change among the people and how they understand America.  Unless that happens things will not get better.

      And I’d say the answer to an ill-informed public is greater access to information and greater transparency, which is happening even as we speak.  People are more politically aware and active today than they’ve ever been in my lifetime of almost half a century, largely because of the internet.

      In any case, Senator McCain didn’t win because he fooled people about who he is and what he stands for, he won because his opponent was as crappy as him and why not keep the guy with some seniority and power if that’s the case?  And can anyone here really tell me that nepotism and the old boys network wouldn’t extend through the state legislatures?  It would become a Minor Leagues for the Senate, and nobody is going to mess with the system to make their future colleagues mad by messing with people already in congress.

      • Senator McCain didn’t win because he fooled people about who he is and what he stands for…

        Wow.  Just wow.  He REVERSED his positions on several cutting issues.  Dude…

  • Did Ezra think of that himself, or was he just repeating Hournolist talking points?

  • Another thought or two, between working…and forgive me if this has been said.
    The 17th stood the Founder’s intent on its head.  They designed the Senate to be the LEAST democratic of all the components of our government.  It was the MOST republican, by design.
    With the 17th, it became instead the MOST democratic of all the components and the LEAST republican…the ONLY one where a majority of voters in a whole state would choose who served.  While a majority of a district’s voters elect a Representative, that is limited by the boundary of the district, limiting the effect of the state-wide majority, and imposing republicanism.
    Those, to me, are EXTREMELY significant changes, and the dynamics they suggest are HUGE.

  • I’d only say to Dr. Taylor’s assertion that Madison’s writings in Fed.39 were a “post-hoc rationalization”, that they could just as easily represent a “post-hoc realization” that they had in fact designed a very good model for government and thus the “eloquent” argument. Personally I’ve never been able to argue eloquently for anything in which I didn’t believe in passionately.

    Bruce: An excellent point, and I wonder if you know how good it really is. It seems to me this is central to all of this.
    Politicians, particularly those of the left in my experience, can argue all day long for things that they don’t really understand or believe in. For example, we now see democrats in danger of being thrown out of office by angry voters, making noises about austerity budgeting,  despite their having voted for and lovely supporting anything but.   On that basis it doesn’t surprise me at all that Klein… (who I will say again is  one of the most intellectually dishonest people on the web), thinks that the authors of the federalist papers etc. we’re doing precisely that.  It  does give his argument some additional wiggle room, I suppose, at least for those who don’t know him and his larger goals.
    As for the seventeenth, I have long been in favor of its repeal, though as Joyner i think it was pointed out the chances of its actual repeal are relatively small.  That amendment changed the relationship of the states to the Federal government, and gave the Federal government a major source of power.  It’s my view that we should have done that.
    If, as shark points up, the state governments are probably more corrupt, and I agree they probably are, perhaps putting such governments back in the spotlight will solve that problem all by itself.

    However, if we take your assertion that the authors and framers under discussion truly believed what they said in those documents then Klein sees his argument going out the window , and rightly so.
     

  • I do not know how much repeal of the 17th Amendment would restore the balance but interestingly enough the Confederate Constitution, despite its obvious glaring flaw on slavery, has some things in it that are worthy of consideration:

    Art. I, Sect. 2:   The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other officers; and shall have the sole power of impeachment; except that any judicial or other Federal officer, resident and acting solely within the limits of any State, may be impeached by a vote of two-thirds of both branches of the Legislature thereof.

    Art. I, Sect. 7:  The President may approve any appropriation and disapprove any other appropriation in the same bill. In such case he shall, in signing the bill, designate the appropriations disapproved; and shall return a copy of such appropriations, with his objections, to the House in which the bill shall have originated; and the same proceedings shall then be had as in case of other bills disapproved by the President.

    Art. I, Sect. 9:  Congress shall appropriate no money from the Treasury except by a vote of two-thirds of both Houses, taken by yeas and nays, unless it be asked and estimated for by some one of the heads of departments and submitted to Congress by the President; or for the purpose of paying its own expenses and contingencies; or for the payment of claims against the Confederate States, the justice of which shall have been judicially declared by a tribunal for the investigation of claims against the Government, which it is hereby made the duty of Congress to establish.

    All bills appropriating money shall specify in Federal currency the exact amount of each appropriation and the purposes for which it is made; and Congress shall grant no extra compensation to any public contractor, officer, agent, or servant, after such contract shall have been made or such service rendered.  

  • Perhaps I missed it, but it seems the fundamental issue is diffusion of power.

    The Founding Fathers first divided the federal government, checks & balances, into three.
    But they then continued, allowing states’ rights as a check on federal.

    And with separation of Church and state (First Amendment part A),  they implicitly allowed the moral authority of religion to counterbalance ALL government.

    Then with a free press (First Amendment part B, pace old media), they explicitly set cynical writers against settled powers of government AND Church.

    Along the way, America developed further bulwarks against oppression, including academia, business, unions, and social organizations such as the Salvation Army and Boy Scouts…

    Regrettably, by way of the 17th amendment and block grants,  we allowed the neutering of states.

    And by way of illegitimate “speech codes,” abuse of the tax code,  irresponsible claims of separation, and co-opting of media and academia, we undercut the authority of all of the non-governmental protections against federal intrusions.

    Ironic that Obama is the biggest proponent of “multilateral” international institutions, all while seeking to consolidate his own power at home…

    • Perhaps I missed it, but it seems the fundamental issue is diffusion of power.

      No – you caught it exactly. And the process which ensured that was tampered with by the passage of the 17th Amendment.

    • EzzzzACTLY…!!!
      The original plan was to ASSURE states they would have the power to populate the MORE POWERFUL of the two chambers.  The states were forming the central government, and this was an important means of keeping it in check.  The states were careful about vesting power, as we can see over and over in the work of the Founders.

  • I think a bigger and more important change in today’s world would be an amendment to make election of representatives proportional.  So if a third party gets enough votes to be equivalent to the percentage of representatives from that state, then at least one of their candidates gets seated.

    This would allow a viable third party to be created and slowly grow in power.

    They way it would work is, let us say a state seats 20 reps. Then if, for instance a new party, lets call it the Tea party, gets at least 5% of the votes in the whole state, then whichever of it’s candidates has the highest vote total gets seated.  So if they do that in several states then although still a small party they now have a caucus of representatives who can form the basis of another round of growth.

    I see that as the only way to break our two party stranglehold on power.

    • So, what districts would be denied the effect of their vote in the majority?  Or would these guys be “super-numeral” reps?  See, kyle?  It isn’t consistent with democracy.  It is also a cheap way to get to a third party, and there is no cheap way to do that.  Dues to pay, my friend…dues to pay.

    • So, what districts would be denied the effect of their vote in the majority?  Or would these guys be “super-numeral” reps?  See, kyle?  It isn’t consistent with democracy.  It is also a cheap way to get to a third party, and there is no cheap way to do that.  Dues to pay, my friend…dues to pay.

    • I think a bigger and more important change in today’s world would be an amendment to make election of representatives proportional

      >>>> Oh god no.  Then you get to deal with coalition making and no confidence votes and all those other nightmares countries that use this system do.  And in a political scene where things are close, so close, do you really want a tiny bloc of (pick one:  Greens, Reds, Birthers, Truthers, Christian Fundies, Athiests etc etc) having outsized power because they can be a swing vote?

  • It is bizarre to tout your careful reading of Madison without even mentioning Federalist #62, which frankly admits that the Senate was the result of a political deal, a “lesser evil” that has no good basis in theory:

    “The equality of representation in the Senate is another point, which, being evidently the result of compromise between the opposite pretensions of the large and the small States, does not call for much discussion. If indeed it be right, that among a people thoroughly incorporated into one nation, every district ought to have a proportional share in the government, and that among independent and sovereign States, bound together by a simple league, the parties, however unequal in size, ought to have an equal share in the common councils, it does not appear to be without some reason that in a compound republic, partaking both of the national and federal character, the government ought to be founded on a mixture of the principles of proportional and equal representation. But it is superfluous to try, by the standard of theory, a part of the Constitution which is allowed on all hands to be the result, not of theory, but “of a spirit of amity, and that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.” A common government, with powers equal to its objects, is called for by the voice, and still more loudly by the political situation, of America. A government founded on principles more consonant to the wishes of the larger States, is not likely to be obtained from the smaller States. The only option, then, for the former, lies between the proposed government and a government still more objectionable.”

  • But it is superfluous to try, by the standard of theory, a part of the Constitution which is allowed on all hands to be the result, not of theory, but “of a spirit of amity, and that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.”…
    The only option, then, for the former [the smaller stats], lies between the proposed government and a government still more objectionable.

    Yep.  So your point is….???  That the writer of #62 held that “no theory” supported it, does not mean there was no reasoned support for it.  Which seems to be what the author is reciting here….

    …among independent and sovereign States, bound together by a simple league, the parties, however unequal in size, ought to have an equal share in the common councils, it does not appear to be without some reason that in a compound republic, partaking both of the national and federal character, the government ought to be founded on a mixture of the principles of proportional and equal representation.

    Or did I misread…????

  • So Mr. Sharpie Klien missed or never understood one of the fundamental causes of the (pick your title – Civil War, War of Rebellion, War of Northern Aggression, War between the States).

    Really sharp guy.

    A HUGE concern was that the North would field more Senators than the South as a result of the entry of the western states as more non-slave than slave, destroying the balance of “slave holding” Senators to “non slave” Senators, the only counterbalance they wielded against the huge population centers of the north, and the resultant number of representatives the North fielded in the House.

    What a clever dumbass he is.

    • Aka, a huge concern–in the South–was that the South would have to live by the same rules the North had when the South had the upper hand.

      • Heh – I’m not in favor of the ‘right’ the Confederacy was most interested in preserving for the States.

  • Excellent essay McQ, and an excellent discussion all. The implications of the 17th Amendment may have been enormous in terms of it’s affect on the trajectory of government, but the argument for its repeal remains subtle and difficult to articulate.