Senator Ben Sasse wrote an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal urging some changes to the United States Senate to “Make the Senate Great Again.”
Sasse correctly argues that, “The old saying used to be that all politics is local, but today—thanks to the internet, 24/7 cable news and a cottage industry dedicated to political addiction—politics is polarized and national. That would change if state legislatures had direct control over who serves in the Senate.”
But the problem is not the Senate itself, or even the 17th Amendment, which he wants repealed (hallelujah), but nationalism itself.
Repealing the 17th Amendment would be a big step in re instituting federalism in the United States, but if the general government could not be confined to its enumerated powers, the Senate will still be a “national” institution with a “federal” composition.
If the Senate spent one second debating “national healthcare,” for example, the entire prospect of a federal resurrection would fail.
The Senate was designed to provide the States some protection in the new general government, and the States were always supposed to be the fourth leg in the system, the creator and stabilizing power that kept the central authority in check.
Some members of the founding generation even argued that States could withhold their Senators and thus prevent a quorum making business impossible.
The 17th Amendment gave the body a “national” character and ruined original intent, but nationalism had already destroyed the general government.
I’m not sure Sasse’s other proposals would matter much, either: term limits, restructuring of committee assignments, forced communal lodging for Senators, etc.
The Senate has always been the largest bag of hot air in Washington and gone are the great men who provides some of the most important speeches in American history. It’s not the structure that made them great, but the men themselves. Changing dining habits won’t beef up the quality of Senators.
Nor will repealing the 17th Amendment.
I’m for it–and have been on the record supporting that move for over a decade–but the problems of American nationalism run deep and could not be corrected by changing how Senators are elected.
The change has to come from the bottom–think locally, act locally.
I discuss Sasse’s plan in Episode 357 of The Brion McClanahan Show.
You can watch it here:
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