November 14, 2003
The Useless Senate
James Lileks is in pain. And with good reason:
The spleen, she hurts. I think it had to do with listening to the Senate debate, if that word applies, and wondering: are they always this banal? This condescending? Are bloviating prevarications the rule rather than the exception? In short: is the world’s greatest deliberative body really filled with this many dim bulbs, card sharps and overstroked dolts who confuse a leaden pause with great rhetoric? If everyone in America had been tied to a chair and forced to watch the debate Clockwork-Orange style, we’d all realize that the Senate is just a holding tank for people whose self-regard and cretinous reasoning is matched only by their demonstrable contempt for the idiots they think will lap this crap up.
Unicameral house! Two year term! One term limit!
(Deep, cleansing breath)
I'm with Lileks on this. It's no secret that the Senate is largely composed of lightweights but to see that fact vividly demonstrated during a rare marathon debate spawns a reaction similar to that of accidently taking a swig from a long-expired milk carton.
The problem is no mystery. As a representative body, the United States Senate lost its reason to exist in 1913 when the 17th Amendment was ratified.
In Article I of the Constitution, the Founders established a bicameral legislature and clearly established the representative role of each house. Article I, Section 2 mandates that the "House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States." Section 3 directs that the "Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature." In other words, the House was to represent the people directly and the Senate was to represent the legislatures of each State.
Proving an old professor of mine correct when he said nothing good ever came of a populist movement, the 17th Amendment -- a populist-backed initiative right along with the income tax and prohibition -- was ratified in 1913. This amendment provided that the "Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof ..."
So who could possibly oppose letting "the people" elect US senators? Hold on while I raise my hand.
The 17th Amendment made the Senate's representative function identical to that of the House of Representatives and rendered the Senate a redundant, purposeless legislative body.
And that's the reason we see so many dolts in the Senate today. They have no purpose for being there. How can they possibly represent the people directly when that's the role of the House of Representatives?
The Founders' plan for a bicameral legislature that would represent both the people and each State's legislature and preserve the fundamentals of federalism was destroyed by the 17th Amendment.
Anyone who doubts that may want to consider that today every State has something akin to a Washington liason office staffed by people who represent the State's interests to the national government. Before the 17th Amendment, that was job of each United States senator.
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