Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Tea Party And The 17th Amendment

Here is an excellent Las Vegas Sun editorial from June 5th, discussing the Tea Party push to eliminate the 17th amendment:
Despite the rhetoric from the Tea Party about putting power back into the hands of the people, many of the movement’s acolytes are talking about repealing the 17th Amendment, which gives voters the right to choose their U.S. senators.

Take away the vote from the people? Isn’t the Tea Party supposed to be a populist movement?

Well, the Tea Party folks say, the 17th Amendment usurped states’ rights. The Senate was, according to the Founding Fathers, supposed to represent the states, thus the Constitution originally gave state legislatures the power to pick U.S. senators.

The Senate, by its makeup, still does that. All states have equal representation. But there was a serious problem with the way senators were once selected. A series of magazine articles in 1906 outlined bribery and fraud in the Senate and detailed how industries and corrupt legislatures were selecting senators. From 1866 to 1906, there were nine bribery cases brought to the Senate. In response to the corruption, the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913.

By putting the vote in the hands of the people, senators were in touch with the voters of their states — and not just beholden to a small group of politicians. Since then, ethics and election laws have raised the standard significantly, so much so that what might be considered unethical today wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow in Congress in the 1800s.

Still, the Tea Party types say that senators today are too influenced by special interests, and they try to argue that putting the election back into the hands of state legislatures would somehow change that. But aren’t legislatures influenced by special interests? That was part of the problem in the 1800s. For example, the railroads held considerable power in politics. They were large landholders and were important to the country. As major political players in state legislatures, they were able to control many decisions — such as who the legislature picked to be senator.

The Tea Party movement likes to complain about smoke-filled backroom deals, but how do they think senators were chosen before the 17th Amendment? The Senate’s history office reports that by the 1850s, many legislatures found themselves deadlocked in their attempts to choose senators. Forty-five times legislatures couldn’t pick a senator from 1891 to 1905.

Does the nation really want to return to those “good old days”? Of course not. Those who advocate repealing the 17th Amendment are missing the big picture. In their anger at the nation’s duly elected leaders, they are advocating a destructive course.

It is important to note that the 17th Amendment was advocated by the progressive movement of the early 1900s, reformers who worked diligently to limit the influence of special interests and to bring the government closer to the people. They were successful, particularly with the 17th Amendment. Why anyone would want to repeal that — especially a supposedly “populist” group — is beyond us.
Tea Partiers are only upset with this because the progressive movement championed it and the Tea Party upper crust hates the progressive movement.  I find it humurous that the Tea Party wants to elliminate the 17th amendment yet they are out there actively promoting Senate candidates that will be directly elected!

I wonder if those Tea Party candidates will immediately resign upon being elected by the people so that the states can choose their respresentative, like the founding fathers intended.  Teabaggers aren't for limited government.  They are for limited federal government.  They want the states to take away your rights that the federal government wants to protect.


  1. Of course they will not resign upon being elected. The system "they" want is not in force at this time. There is no contradiction here. They cannot change the system by running for office and then resigning. That changes nothing. They run for office, win the election, and take their plea to Congress. If they are successful in writing a reversal, changing the system back to the original intent of the Founding Fathers, THEN they resign.

    BTW, did you have a specific Senatorial candidate in mind? I'll bet you don't. I am not aware of any, in spite of the desire of some to reconstitute the original document.

    Mountains out of mole hills, Kevin.

  2. Maybe I did not make my point entirely clear. I understand that those elected would be operating in a system different from the one they desire, but to act within such a system in order to change the system seems hypocritical, after all, these people would have to violate what they believe in in order to accomplish their goals.

    If they were truly principled, they would resign and let their state selected replacement to continue on with the work.

    I did not have a specific Senatorial candidate in mind because I was writing a hypothetical.

    You also seemed to miss the point of the article - the Constitution was flawed, allowing for corruption to run rampant, until the progressive movement gained in popularity and amended the constitution to reduce the influence of so few over the government.

    The system was also inefficient, in times incapable of selecting a senator, basically causing the state to lose representation...

    Seems like the progressives were acting in the best interest of the nation, not special interests...


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