From The CATO Institute:
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Reform for Senate Elections?
Posted by John Samples
People inside the Beltway seem to think that the only things worth being said and written are said and written in Washington. John David Dyche’s column today makes a good case for the quality of commentary outside the all-knowing capital.
While most everyone in DC is calling the stretch run of the horse race, Dyche steps back and wonders whether the Kentucky Senate race would have been better for citizens if the U.S. Constitution had not been changed to direct election of senators. He thinks it would be.
I am not so certain. As Dyche notes, James Madison thought the representative or indirect aspects of American constitutional democracy would improve public choice. As times has passed, I wonder more and more about the quality of people drawn to all legislatures, including state bodies. Madison thought indirect election wold “refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” Should we still rely on the wisdom of that medium? And yet, what is the alternative? (Todd Zywicki has an informative article on the origins and demise of indirect election of senators).
Dyche works as an attorney in Louisville, Kentucky, and has written a nice biography of Mitch McConnell. His column is worth a regular read, especially if Rand Paul comes to Washington as a U.S. Senator. Dyche would be a good guide to how Paul’s libertarian tendencies are playing out politically back home
And, the referenced original story:
From The Louisville Courier-Journal:
John David Dyche
Senate candidates running camouflage campaigns
By John David Dyche • The Courier-Journal • October 26, 2010
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2Previous PageKentucky's U.S. Senate candidates have both run camouflage campaigns in some respects.
Republican Rand Paul has tried to conceal the extent of his truly libertarian leanings. He wants an even smaller federal government than even many tea partiers could endure.
Democrat Jack Conway has attempted to hide the extent of his liberal leanings. He wants a bigger federal government than even many Democrats desire.
Yet the campaign has served its essential clarifying purpose. Those who want less federal government and a check on President Obama will vote for Paul. Those who want more federal government and support for the President will vote for Conway.
And we have learned a lot about the candidates' characters and judgment in the process. Not all of it was reassuring.
After enduring another onslaught of obnoxious negative ads, voters may say, “There has got to be a better way,” to choose senators. The Founding Fathers certainly thought so. They let the state legislatures do it.
Federalist No. 62, probably penned by James Madison, explained why. “It is recommended by the double advantage of favoring a select appointment, and of giving to the state governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems.”
John Adams agreed. “[T]he senators, being eligible by the legislatures of the several states, and dependent on them for re-election, will be vigilant in supporting their rights against infringement by the legislative or executive of the United States.”
As Ralph Rossum of Claremont McKenna College observed in the invaluable The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, this “mode of election impelled senators to preserve the original federal design and to protect the interests not only of their own states, but, concomitantly, of the states as political and legal entities within the federal system.”
The 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, radically changed this arrangement by providing for direct popular election of senators. Rossum cites several reasons for the change.
One was legislative deadlocks arising when, as in Kentucky now, “one party controlled the state assembly or house and another the state senate.” There were also scandals and allegations of bribery and corruption in connection with legislative selection.
Perhaps more important, however, were the Populist movement and the rise of Progressivism. Rossum refers to their “deep-seated suspicion of wealth and influence” and “conviction that the solution to the problems of democracy was more democracy.”
Although advanced by conservatives ever since the Progressive Era, the view that the federal government has grown too big and usurped the constitutional prerogatives of the states may have reached critical mass in this year's mid-term elections. Candidates like Paul call for a restoration of states' rights, but primarily in policy terms rather than constitutional structure like the manner of selecting senators.
But a real return to the federalist system and limited national government found in America's original constitutional design may also require structural reform. The Founding Fathers in their incomparable wisdom were extremely distrustful of direct, small “d,” democracy. The Constitution therefore contains several limiting, small “r,” republican mechanisms.
Those that remain, like the Electoral College, deserve spirited defense. Some lost long ago, like indirect election of senators, merit consideration for revival.
As Madison noted in Federalist No. 10, the republican elements “refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.”
The man celebrated, but much too little, as the Father of the Constitution continued, “Under such a regulation it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.”
The parallel expansion of direct democracy and explosion in the size and scope of federal government are neither coincidental nor surprising. The people always and obviously want more government than they are willing to pay for, and politicians pandering to them have been only too willing to provide it. That cannot continue.
Perhaps it is, in some critical constitutional respects, time for a little less power to the people.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney who writes a political column on alternating Tuesdays in Forum His views are his own, not those of the law firm in which he practices. Read him on-line at www.courier-journal.com; e-mail: email@example.com.