Two years ago, conservatives were on the ropes. But the GOP victories in last month’s elections have them dreaming big again. They’re back to talking about destroying the Democrats once and for all. Even Newt Gingrich is talking about running for President in 2012, which shows how general the optimism is.
Some in the political meth labs of the right dream bigger still, and push for new Amendments to the Constitution. So what would you expect these newly-empowered Sons of Liberty to push? The Human Life Amendment? Repeal of the Civil Rights Act? A ban on the cursed TSA?
No, comrades, those are from the old wish-lists. The front runners so far are an Amendment to have state legislatures, rather than citizens, directly elect U.S. Senators, and another allowing state legislatures to overturn federal laws.
The first proposal would repeal the 17th Amendment, passed in 1913, which gave citizens the right to choose their Senators directly, back when progressivism was all the rage.
Tea Partiers have been warm to repeal 17A. Alaska Tea Party Senate candidate Joe Miller supported repeal; that he later felt obliged to dodge the issue we can put down to pressure from the liberal media, which also discouraged Rand Paul from his principled stand against the Civil Rights Act.
If you think giving voters less power on Election Day is a strange way to promote liberty, you’re just greedy, rightbloggers tell us — that power rightfully belongs to the states, not to sheeple like you.
For one thing, your insistence on roads and bridges is costing us money as well as Constitutional authenticity. Back in the glorious pre-17A era, Senators “didn’t have to worry about bringing home ‘pork’ and other such nonsense to bribe voters with, because they were accountable to the state legislatures,” said Thoughts from a Conservative Mom. This makes some kind of sense: It was probably cheaper for the Republic when pre-17A Senators accepted Credit Mobilier stock or other emoluments for their services, instead of trying to get public works for their states.
“While the 17th Amendment was meant to prevent outright bribery of state representatives in Senator selection,” said Tea Party candidate Glen Bradley, “today, the winning candidate is most often the one backed by the most special interest money. The avenue of US Senate corruption was taken away from the State Legislatures and handed to the corporate lobby. The corporate lobby is able to buy the media needed to reach the whole State.”
This seems an odd complaint, given how excited conservatives were when the Supreme Court, in Citizens United v. FEC, freed corporate lobbies to dump as much money into political media as they wished. But better that power should go to them, we guess, than to whatever other “special interests and mobs demanding more from the people’s treasury” World Net Daily’s Devvy Kidd was talking about when she discussed 17A. (She didn’t favor repeal, as she believed the Amendment was not properly enacted in the first place.)
For others the real issue is that other Lost Cause, states’ rights. “Prior to the ratification of the 17th Amendment, the states, through their representatives, had a say in legislation that was passed by the central/federal government,” explained neal. “With the passage of the 17th Amendment, that say was passed to the people, leaving the states almost devoid of any say in the operations of the federal government.”
“The 17th Amendment was necessary to eliminate the voice of the states in congress,” said Jason Southwell, who laid the blame on a (new, to us) historical progressive villain, William Howard Taft.
The call to end 17A reached National Review, where Todd Zywicki claimed that with direct election of Senators, “progressives dealt a blow to the Framers’ vision of the Constitution from which we have yet to recover,” and created a “master-servant relationship between the federal and state governments that the original constitutional design sought to prevent.” Among the atrocities Zywicki laid to this corrupt deal: Motor Voter Laws.
Perhaps sensing that he was losing the crowd, Zywicki quickly added that “the provisions of Obamacare that override state policy decisions… would have been unthinkable” without the 17th Amendment; better repeal it before a 17A-enabled Obama establishes a national car pool or something. (World Net Daily’s Henry Lamb agreed: Obamacare “would have never seen the light of day” without 17A. Maybe they should work next on an Amendment authorizing the development of a time machine.)
Zywicki also claimed that “there is some evidence that the indirectly elected Senate was more accessible to non-career politicians than today’s version is.” He did not, alas, provide examples, though he might have cited the grand might-have-been that was Senator Caroline Kennedy. (It seems a weird talking point, anyway, after a Tea Party election in which activists bucked their own political establishments to nominate “non-career politicians” like Christine O’Donnell and Joe Miller. Maybe, after reform, state legislatures will endeavor to find even less careerist candidates by going into warehouses and slaughterhouses, quizzing the guys on civics, and appointing the ones who get the lowest scores.)
That one’s still cooking, but recently there’s been a flurry of rightblogger commentary on another kind of “Repeal” Amendment — not to restore old ways, but to newly empower state legislatures to nullify federal laws if two-thirds of them can agree.
Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell is working on such legislation now. Libertarians, with whom it originated, are talking it up. And there’s a web site. Any day now the People will rise up in support!
“I suspect that 80% of the population would like these ideas, and 0% of the political class,” said Ken Nelson. “Voter anger fuels support for ‘Repeal Amendment,'” headlined The Daily Caller, though it mostly cited conservative politicians, and a claim that “hits on the RepealAmendment.org website have mushroomed over the past month.” There’s no poll, either, but Republican-friendly pollster Scott Rasmussen told The Caller “he would likely find overwhelming support from most Americans were he to conduct a poll on support for the ‘Repeal Amendment.'”
Eventually they’ll have to get around to informing the masses about this Amendment they’re going to love. So far they’re mostly talking about how it’s a sure thing.
“So Communists, er, Democrats, meet your nemesis, those damned innovative Americans, again,” said Right Side News. “The Daily Caller headline (November 24, 2010) says it all. Yet another unanticipated fastball has been hurled directly at the radical left’s destructive agenda.” The headline, “Power the the People! Repeal Amendment Gaining Strength,” has rampaged across the blogosphere.
Others waited for liberals to complain, and then attacked those complaints as ridiculous.
Reacting to Dana Milbank, Ann Althouse scoffed, “Since the Repeal Amendment, proposed by Randy Barnett, can easily be portrayed as an effort to return to something closer to the balance of power provided for in the original Constitution, it is pretty silly to portray yourself as brimming with respect for the Founders when what you really support is the shift of power to the national government that occurred over the long stretch of time, a shift that the courts have allowed to take place.” So the Repeal Amendment wouldn’t mess up the Constitution — it’s already been messed up by activist judges. Plus Milbank can’t spell “hare-brained.”
“The great attraction of the Repeal Amendment… is that it reveals the abysmal ignorance of those on the Left who oppose it,” said RedState’s Moe Lane. “The Repeal Amendment – Can you smell the liberals fear?” said a poster at Argue With Everyone. “Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick and Jeff Sesol recycle Dana Milbank’s dumb criticism,” said Instapundit. “Is it just me, or do the lefty critics just seem to be phoning it in lately? …the criticism of the proposal is so amazingly ignorant that I find myself warming to it despite myself.” Look out, liberals, your criticism is having unintended consequences on Instapundit’s opinions!
As we are resigned to the imminent collapse of the Republic, we can’t say that these Amendments have no chance at all of passing. But we suspect most of the drum-beating over them is less about changing the Constitution than about sending a message of support to two major conservative constituencies:
First, state-level conservative pols. The Republicans’ 2010 gains were nowhere more impressive than in state legislatures: They turned over hundreds of seats, and now run both chambers in 26 states. This is where the next generation of national conservative politicians will be bred. Advocating for an elevation of their responsibility over national affairs is a good way to acknowledge their power, and perhaps sharpen their appetite for more of it. Maybe the Representative for Gopher’s Gulch will start talking about the evils of the Federal Reserve and fiat money in his newsletters, rather than constituent services, and thus more widely disseminate the new rightwing gospel.
Second, the Tea Party people. Some of them may get impatient about seeing their agenda realized in Congress. Even at this early stage, some of their alleged representatives are already going for earmarks as if Rick Santelli had never fired the shot heard ’round the world. No doubt more disappointments are in store. Demands for big changes that would take years to realize could serve as a useful distraction. The problem isn’t the Congressmen you elected — it’s Congress itself! It even involves the Constitution, which they love talking about. It’s change they can believe in even if, as often, it never comes.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 6, 2010