Let's Talk About The 17th Amendment

In the wake of the Senate's spectacular failure to pass Trumpcare or whatever the hell you want to call it these days*, there's been a minor internet bubble about repealing the 17th Amendment that I think is worth exploring for a second or two.

Now, the 17th Amendment if you're not up on your Constitutional Amendments is the one that established direct election of US Senators by the people and not by the state legislatures. There are some compelling reasons to consider the idea, but I'm just not necessarily convinced that's going to solve the underlying problems, which is the paralysis and the general uselessness of the Legislative Branch itself.

The original intent, if anyone can truly know that two centuries later seems to have been to give the states themselves more of a stake in the Federal government that they have now. Simply repealing the 17th Amendment would put the states back in the Senate as it were, but it's not that simple: in times past, the selection of senators took over state politics more or less. You paid attention and vote based on who your candidate was going to pick for Senator. (I'm not sure I agree with the Slate article's contention that state politics are too enmeshed with national politics as it is- it sure feels like that there are plenty of state issues to talk about here in Iowa, for example.)

Ditto with this article. I think the data's there to back up the overall assertion, but I think the conclusion isn't quite right either. In many ways I think the opposite is true- state politics are are more influential on national politics than the other way around. Consider the hole that the Democrats find themselves in- and make no mistake, it's quite the hole- a lot of it has to do with the fact that the Republicans are the dominant party on the state level. Their 'bench strength' is where a lot of their recent success has come from and you only have to look at the number of the Republicans candidates versus the number of Democratic candidates in the last election. The deeper your bench on the state level, the better your national prospects can be.

That outsized influence that state success has on national prospects though is probably where I get off the bus for repealing the 17th Amendment. I just don't think it'll do what they think it'll do. If anything, it'll make it worse. You think Senators elected by their state legislatures would have passed Trumpcare? I don't- especially given the number of Republican governors who took the Medicare expansion and fought against whatever hellish mess the Senate had cooked up in many cases. I also think- especially with the Republican Party, that states tend to swing further to the extremes in some cases than the nation itself. (Witness Kansas and their tax cut fiasco.) Translating that to a national policy perspective might be fitting a round peg in a square hole.

Washington is in chaos. You could argue that it's all part of the plan, but I don't buy that entirely.** I think that  returning to regular order seems like a good idea, but the problems are deeper than that. I'm just not sure that repealing the 17th Amendment is going to provoke Congress to you know, actually do anything.

Therein lies the problem. Congress hasn't actually been doing much of anything at all and it's sapping the strength of our democracy. It forces the Executive to keep grabbing power and governing by the pen but that too, has its drawbacks- what you do by the pen can be undone by the pen just as quickly which makes lasting governance hard to achieve.

So yeah, let's talk about the 17th Amendment. Let's keep talking about how to fix the problems in the Legislative Branch. I'm not convinced that repealing the 17th Amendment is going to help the problems, but sure, let's talk about it. Talking can't hurt.

*I don't really know enough about health care to write on it convincingly or well. I do know a little about politics though in my rough, amateur way and the verdict on this is easy- no one wants to own this issue. If they make it worse, they'll pay the political price for it. So inaction is easier than risking their jobs. Plus: after 8 years of bitching about Obamacare, the fact they didn't have something ready to go from Day 1 makes them looks equally as idiotic. 

**The more I think about it, the more I think the President is like the one person at the cocktail party that says the more inappropriate thing possible to try and ingratiate themselves with the crowd. Like nudging a bunch of Doctors and saying, "hey man, cut off the wrong foot lately?" The kernel of truth to that article is that the President does know how to play the media like a fiddle. Unfortunately, that's all he seems to know how to do some days.


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