What a F*ing Scandal the Senate Is

by Corey Robin on November 21, 2013

Today, the United States Senate voted to eliminate the filibuster for most presidential nominees. That decision does not apply to legislation or Supreme Court nominees.

Republican John McCain responded to the vote, “Now there are no rules in the United States Senate.” The Reactionary Mind at work. (Incidentally, Patrick Devlin made a similar argument in The Enforcement of Morals, which led H.L.A. Hart to remind him that a change in the rules of an order need not constitute the elimination of that order or of order as such.)

But what does the vote actually mean? As Phil Klinkner explained to me, and as this old Washington Post piece confirms, before this vote, senators representing a mere 11% of the population could block all presidential appointments and all legislation.

From now on, senators representing a mere 17% of the population can block most presidential appointments; senators representing 11% of the population can still block all legislation and all Supreme Court nominees.

The march of democracy.

What a fucking scandal that institution is.

{ 97 comments }

1

Michael Collins 11.21.13 at 8:21 pm

I know it’s miserable to ask usage questions, but why use an asterisk in the title when there’s none in the text?

2

christian_h 11.21.13 at 8:52 pm

So according to McCain this is the end of the Republic . In contrast, the NSA spying on hundreds of millions illegally is best solved by retroactively legalizing the spying. Got it, John.

3

LFC 11.21.13 at 8:55 pm

The Senate was sort of designed to be a break on democracy, wasn’t it? As Corey is well aware, Senators weren’t even directly elected until, what, 1917? (Sorry, too lazy to look things up.) But I agree the pendulum in recent years has swung too far in the direction of minority-veto, b/c it used not to be the case that you needed 60 votes to do anything (which is the situation the present vote is partly addressing).

Btw, I for one like the fact that CT posters can be profane when they want to be. One of several respects in which CT differs from The Monkey Cage is that never in a zillion years would a poster on the latter blog write “What a fucking scandal [the Senate] is” (though I must confess I’ve stopped reading the Cage since it moved to WaPo — nothing against WaPo per se, I just got out of the habit and never bookmarked the new address).

4

LFC 11.21.13 at 8:57 pm

correction:
“brake” not “break”
whatever

5

christian_h 11.21.13 at 8:59 pm

I don’t understand your point LFC. I think we all agree that the Senate is anti-democratic by design. How is this a defense of its existence?

6

Mao Cheng Ji 11.21.13 at 9:02 pm

Isn’t it common knowledge that senators represent states, not equal portions of the population of the union?

Is it okay for Germany to force its policy on Greece, or is that a f*ing scandal for some other reason?

7

Barry 11.21.13 at 9:03 pm

“Republican John McCain responded to the vote, “Now there are no rules in the United States Senate.””

Considering that McCain was the braggart for his previous deal, which the GOP eagerly violated, double f*ck him.

8

Tom Slee 11.21.13 at 9:08 pm

Right on Corey Robin!

Oh, wait a minute…. I assumed you meant the Canadian Senate.

9

LFC 11.21.13 at 9:15 pm

christian_h
I don’t understand your point LFC. I think we all agree that the Senate is anti-democratic by design. How is this a defense of its existence?

It’s not a defense of its existence, that’s true. So I guess one could argue it’s always been a scandal. But of course Americans are reluctant to think that the hallowed Founders could have gotten some things wrong (apart from, like, slavery). Whether the Senate was a mistake from the beginning is something I don’t have an immediate opinion on right now; from a practical standpoint, something like it was probably necessary to get the required agreement on the Const. (But I’m not sure.)

More to say here, but I’ll leave it at that.

10

geo 11.21.13 at 9:17 pm

LFC @3: nothing against WaPo per se

This is pushing open-mindedness a little too far.

11

Corey Robin 11.21.13 at 9:26 pm

I’m one of those people who happen to think the Senate was a scandal from the very beginning. And that is anti-democratic scandalousness is actually caught up in the history of slavery, as I blogged here:

http://crookedtimber.org/2013/03/12/the-us-senate-where-democracy-goes-to-die/

But I also think the numbers in the OP are illuminating and clarifying for even the most jaded observer. The filibuster, for example, has gotten a lot of attention in recent years as an anti-democratic instrument. But how many of you knew that if we were to eliminate the filibuster completely it would only mean that senators representing 17%, instead of 11%, of the population would be necessary to block legislation that had the support of overwhelming majorities?

12

rw 11.21.13 at 10:04 pm

The Senate is indeed quite a joke, but what’s substantially more comical is the implication that anything the Senate does or anyone they nominate are in anyway indicative of the will of the population, and that a minority of the “population” is interfering with the majority of the “population.”

Who cares if it’s Senators nominally “representing” 11% or 17% or 51%? The whole thing is an echo chamber.

13

mrearl 11.21.13 at 10:22 pm

Madison seems to have viewed the Senate as a “lesser evil” than not having a common government at all, since the small states wouldn’t enlist otherwise. Federalist No. 62:
http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa62.htm

Despite, or because of, the Civil War, there is little reason to believe the small states wouldn’t have the same attitude today. Even if one could get the two-thirds of both houses Article Five requires for referral, ratification of a Senate abolition amendment would still need ratification by three-fourths of the states.

And, yes, that’s not an excuse for the Senate, merely an explanation for its persistence in the teeth of blatant obsolescence.

14

LFC 11.21.13 at 10:33 pm

But how many of you knew that if we were to eliminate the filibuster completely it would only mean that senators representing 17%, instead of 11%, of the population would be necessary to block legislation

A fair point; I didn’t know that. (The 17% figure is a minimum, i.e. one might have 51 votes representing more than that, depending on where they are from, but still a fair point.) I believe it’s also been pointed out somewhere that most Senators are substantially wealthier than the median constituent they represent — no surprise there.

I think there is an argument to be made for the Senate as it operated in certain periods at least, but I’ll let someone else make it.

15

temp 11.21.13 at 10:47 pm

The senate isn’t great, but it’s not nearly as bad as implied by the 17% figure, because some of the states that are overreperesented tend to elect Democrats and some tend to elect Republicans, and it cancels out. In practice, the senate is much more representative than it would be in the worst possible world (probably more representative than the house, actually).

16

mrearl 11.21.13 at 11:24 pm

I don’t think politically canceling out (while I agree there is some, as say, Rhode Island cancels Utah) is relevant to the OP, whose lament I took to be that a vote for a Senate candidate in Wyoming is worth 60 times more than the same vote in California.

17

Chaz 11.21.13 at 11:31 pm

Having two senators per state is a lot more defensible if you presuppose that senators are elected by state legislatures. Such an election method implies two problematic things: 1) All senators will tend to be from whatever faction dominates their state legislature, and 2) All senators will be focused on their states’ parochial interests–perhaps even spite-driven state rivalries–because they rely on the legislature for reelection and also probably come from the legislature themselves. That means that if a few states dominate the nation population-wise, then a proportional senate will be dominated by a few very homogeneous state delegations. That puts power into just a few hands and greatly reduces the diversity of viewpoints included (at least, included with significant voting power).

I think this is a problem in the EU Council of Ministers at the moment. CM voting is (partly) weighted by population, but each country’s share is cast as a single bloc controlled by the head of government/state. That means that three people (Merkel, Hollande, Cameron) can veto anything and basically dictate policy to the entire union.

If you have representatives elected by the people from districts or proportional representation, then the problem goes away and there is no excuse for continuing the unfair weighting.

18

Chaz 11.21.13 at 11:56 pm

The fact that the small states are not aligned into one faction is a big deal. The unfair weighting of states naturally favors the Republicans (not enough for a majority with 17% by any means), but by some fortunate coincidence we actually have a Democratic majority in the Senate right now while the House is Republican. Since the Democrats won the last election according to aggregate presidential and House votes, this means that the Senate is currently actually *more representative* than the House.

People probably won’t care too much about reforming the Senate as long as it’s not skewing things heavily against either party. If we get to a situation where one party dominates the House and presidency for a prolonged period, but is obstructed in the Senate by a small-state based rival party, then people may demand reform. The closest we’ve come to that must be the period before the Civil War. The free soil doctrine threatened a showdown with the Senate, but we’ll never know if Lincoln would have pushed to overpower the Senate or just institutionalize a showdown where no new states entered the union.

And if the Senate weighting ever is reformed, it is doubtful that it will be done by the amendment process defined in the current constitution. For starters, the Constitution explicitly says that you’re not allowed to do that. What is more likely is that a very dissatisfied, united, and powerful faction will simply declare a revolution and institute a new constitution by popular acclaim (together with force). That is how the US Constitution was put in place and, I think, all five French constitutions.

19

Bloix 11.22.13 at 12:22 am

“People probably won’t care too much about reforming the Senate as long as it’s not skewing things heavily against either party.”

The thing is, the parties are the way they are because of the anti-Democratic nature of the Senate – and also the electoral college, which has some of the same problems).

It’s the nature of modern politics that urban voters are more politically progressive than rural ones. This isn’t always true, but it’s generally true. In aggregate, the Senate grossly favors rural voters. Because you can’t do much if you don’t have the Senate, the demarcation line between the “left” party and the “right” party is wherever a party has hopes of winning 51 seats.

It’s true that right now the Democrats hold the Senate, but they manage it only because there are conservatives who can win as Democrats in rural states. The line between Democrat and Republican is pretty far to the right because it needs to be in order for Dems to have a shot at national governance.

If the Senate weren’t biased so heavily in favor of rural voters, the Democrats would be a more liberal party and the Republicans would have to be a more moderate party. There would still be two parties and the names would be the same but the perceived “moderate” territory would be quite a bit further to the left.

20

Hector_St_Clare 11.22.13 at 12:33 am

Re: “People probably won’t care too much about reforming the Senate as long as it’s not skewing things heavily against either party.”

The Senate makes the process of government more slower and gridlocked, which favours the status quo and disfavours activist government. In practice therefore, it favours Republicans. You can get more government programs enacted if you have fewer roadblocks to clear along the way.

Re: It’s the nature of modern politics that urban voters are more politically progressive than rural ones. This isn’t always true, but it’s generally true.

Well, to be precise, urban voters are more ‘liberal’ than rural ones, which doesn’t equate to politically progressive in countries where you have a liberal-capitalist party and an authoritarian-socialist or authoritarian-populist one. Rural voters favour the left in Latin America, and while I don’t have data (and it would be of dubious validity anyway) I suspect the same is true of Russia and the former Eastern block.

That said, the Senate doesn’t really favour rural states, it favours *small* states (which include urbanized, Democratic strongholds like Hawaii and Rhode Island, and also rural New England states which are among the few rural white regions of the country to favour Democrats). What with the heavy migration to Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, Arizona and other Republican strongholds in the last few decades, I’m not sure you’re right any more about the Senate structurally favouring Democrats, though you well might be. I’d like to see the data first.

21

a different chris 11.22.13 at 1:17 am

Consider this:

Conneticut is showing as the 29th largest state, Iowa the 30th. Population wise, Puerto Rico snuggles right in between them. Don’t they deserve a pair of senators?

Washington DC has more people than Vermont or North Dakota. Again, is this fair?

And might mention to the successionists in Colorado, if Manhattan, just Manhattan, succeeded it would be more populus than 12 states, yet New York would only drop one place, from 3rd most populous state to 4th.

With or without the asterisk, this arrangement totally deserves an F-bomb.

22

dn 11.22.13 at 3:23 am

Obviously the Senate was always anti-democratic and was designed to be so. This was understandable as a political compromise to ensure the survival of the nascent Union, given the sectionalism that plagued the antebellum US. The path of history since then has pretty clearly rendered it anachronistic, but it’s not like it’s any more egregiously retrograde than some of the other features of the American Constitution. The Electoral College is probably worse.

Of course, the underlying issue is that we’ve never really solved the problem of sovereignty in the American system. The Constitution claims to derive its authority from the People, yet the Union is a union of States. Certain portions of the constitutional structure, including the Senate and Electoral College, were designed to guard the prerogatives of the States at the expense of the People. Since then, the Seventeenth Amendment has destroyed this aspect of American federalism; where once the Senate represented the States as a counterweight to the popularly-elected House, now the Senate is neither fish nor fowl, and as a result fails to represent anyone or anything adequately – it’s just another in the already over-long list of independently empowered entities in the nation’s Byzantine political order.

23

bad Jim 11.22.13 at 3:37 am

The filibuster was only tolerable when it was rarely used, which is to say when it was the nuclear option. The most telling statistic is that of the 168 times it’s been used, 82 have been during Obama’s administration. The Republicans broke it through overuse.

With respect to judicial nominations, it might have been acceptable to treat it like a peremptory challenge, allowing the minority party a limited number of vetoes to be reserved for egregiously objectionable candidates. Using it against every candidate destroyed its legitimacy.

The House of Representatives, of course, is hardly an example of democracy. The Senate has sent them several bills which would probably attract enough Republican votes to pass, if put up for a vote. Unfortunately, in practice, the Speaker can choose which bills are considered.

Note that the popularly-elected House has a Republican majority, even though a majority of votes cast were for Democratic candidates. This is partly a result of gerrymandering, but mostly due to Democrats being compactly clustered in cities. Senatorial elections are statewide, erasing this effect, which is more or less why Democrats continue to hold the Senate despite its deliberately non-democratic design.

24

dn 11.22.13 at 4:09 am

Re: the filibuster, while I consider today’s developments an improvement, it’s hard not to see the whole issue as just another inherent failing of a presidential system. Gridlock is bearable if the basic functions of government are able to proceed day-to-day without active input from our elected representatives, but a system of government that so easily permits vital posts to go unfilled due to political paralysis is just not acceptable – in fact I daresay it hardly deserves to be called “government” at all. Lowering the threshold for action is only a partial solution.

25

Hector_St_Clare 11.22.13 at 4:44 am

Re: Population wise, Puerto Rico snuggles right in between them.

The issue there is it’s not entirely clear whether Puerto Ricans actually want to be a state. The statehood option has, IIRC, just under 50%, and is strongly dependent on the language issue (a majority would vote for statehood if they were guaranteed protection against Anglicization). I might be remembering this a bit wrong, but while there may be a majority there favouring statehood, it’s not an overwhelming one.

I think PR should be a state, and DC should either be a state or be handed over to Maryland.

26

Hector_St_Clare 11.22.13 at 4:47 am

Ugh, the last Puerto Rican referendum was ridiculously ambiguous, maybe by design.

“Puerto Rican voters were asked two questions: (1) whether they agreed to continue with Puerto Rico’s territorial status and (2) to indicate the political status they preferred from three possibilities: statehood, independence, or a sovereign nation in free association with the United States.[1] 970,910 (54.00%) voted “No” on the first question, expressing themselves against maintaining the current political status, and 828,077 (46.00%) voted “Yes”, to maintain the current political status. Of those who answered on the second question 834,191 (61.16%) chose statehood, 454,768 (33.34%) chose free association, and 74,895 (5.49%) chose independence”

27

otpup 11.22.13 at 5:00 am

@temp 15. I don’t know if that holds up. Back in the late 90’s, early naught’s I crunch the numbers. Every single red state came had population densities smaller than average (which mean they are more rural) and all had smaller than average population (meaning they got disproportionate representation) except one. The only state that was a red that was also large population was Texas.

28

TJL 11.22.13 at 5:17 am

In this case, the execrable McCain has it right.

The Senate didn’t vote to change the filibuster rules. A senator made a motion to end debate, which requires 60 votes in the Senate per the rules of the Senate, and because there were not 60 votes, by rule debate would not end. Senator Reid raise a point of order to say that approval of the motion to end debate should require only a majority, and that point of order was ruled out of order by the presiding officer, as it should have been under the rules of the Senate. At that point a majority of the Senate overruled the presiding officer, effectively establishing a precedent that the only rule in the Senate is that any majority rules.

The Senate has rules, including rules on rule changes. Those rules were not followed. Instead, a majority of the Senate decided that 52 equals 60, or, rather, that any majority that wants to is as good as 60, whatever the rules might say. A defense of that action that refers to rules is, shall we say, uninformed.

Under the new regime in the Senate, there are no rules other than a majority rule. Unanimous consent may be required under the standing rules for particular items, but, as we’ve seen, the majority is quite willing to count in unprecedented ways, and so any unanimous consent concept is gone. The suggestion that there is a filibuster that remains is silly. It remains only so long as the majority–any majority, not necessarily a partisan one–wills it.

29

adam.smith 11.22.13 at 5:49 am

@otpup 27 @temp 15
I was curious, so I did some quick spreadsheet calculations. Democrats, by all measures, have a slight disadvantage because of the state size, but it’s small.
Here are three potential measures:
1. If every state had votes corresponding to its share of the US population – Democrats should get 57.4% of Senate seats (I’m counting Sanders, VT and King, ME as Democrats here, which for all practical purposes they are)
2. The correlation (r) between Democrat’s Senate seats and a state’s percentage of the US population is ~7% – i.e. clearly positive, but small
3. The correlation between a state’s rank by population from 1-50 and Democratic seats is ~ -3% (i.e. the smaller a state the lower the share of Democratic seats). Also to the disadvantage of Dems, though not really much.

Data Spreadsheet is here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0ApYAL3oB4wTkdGlqcTdxc056VmFSSThPR2M4djRHQkE&usp=sharing

(This is not intended as an argument either way and I think it doesn’t really affect what Corey is saying at all, but I was curious and I figured other people would be as well).

30

bad Jim 11.22.13 at 6:12 am

The areas of states increase from east to west as a result of settlement patterns, population size when admitted to statehood, and historical accidents. California and Texas are the obvious anomalies, nearly nations themselves. While it’s certainly the case that Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas and Nevada are grossly over-represented in the Senate, their very size, and perhaps their sparse settlement, limited their number and thus their influence.

31

AJ 11.22.13 at 6:23 am

The previous situation was bad. Now, it is worse.

For me as an American, this is pretty scary. Here is the thing – the implication of this change is not just that legislation would move faster under Obama. It is that the speed of legislation in the United States is simply going to be faster under all future Presidents. We have simply given the majority more power.

If another Bush gets elected, and he gets to move legislation through both the House and the the Senate as quickly as he wants, the disastrous… I need say no more. Just wait till Sarah Palin becomes President.

32

mud man 11.22.13 at 6:26 am

Historically, I mean going back to Ur of the Chaldees, the metropolis has been fed by an outlying agricultural region. The metropolis dominates by reason of population numbers and wealth; often in history it has exploited the backcountry mercilessly. In the name of equality it is useful to have a counterweight on the exurban side.

If you want to say that isn’t how the system is operating today, you could make that point. But one could point out that the House of Representatives may be more democratic, but it doesn’t seem to be more healthy.

33

AJ 11.22.13 at 6:43 am

> But one could point out that the House of Representatives may be more
> democratic, but it doesn’t seem to be more healthy.
+1.

Every few months, a new heart attack-worthy incident. What has happened to reasonable, responsible leadership? Every few months, a new crisis. Crisis after crisis and, of course, the central leadership awards itself more power. The buggers! This is huge, folks.

The best part of American government was precisely that legislation would move slower through the Senate. A stately pace, if you will. (The fact that legislation moves faster in California (via propositions) hasn’t exactly made the state of affairs in the state better.) The fact of the matter is that we are all operating under conditions of bounded rationality. We simply don’t know everything. The more time we have to mull over the big issues, the better. Brakes need to be applied on government from time to time. Again, this change is huge.

There are some things that may appear to be a good idea in the short term but are far from that in the long term. Sadly, this is one of those things.

34

adam.smith 11.22.13 at 6:51 am

oh Christ AJ, if you’re going to go all hysterical, at least talk about what has actually happened and not some fantasy world. The rule change as passed today has no impact at all on legislation and the chances that the filibuster will get nixed for legislation is very close to zero for the next three years (why would Dems do that? GOP controls the House).
Even beyond that – assuming e.g. that Republicans take Senate, House, and Presidency in 2016 – it’s not terribly likely it’s going to happen (read various experts on why not). But if it does, feel free to lament the death of the Senate as envisioned by the founders as it has developed over the last 40 years then.

35

AJ 11.22.13 at 6:59 am

> Even beyond that – assuming e.g. that Republicans take Senate, House, and
> Presidency in 2016 – it’s not terribly likely it’s going to happen (read various experts
> on why not).
Who is hysterical? I wrote a few short lines. This rule change is huge.

Ok, so how do you propose that brakes on government be applied? The previous state of affairs favored consensus. That was the key. How will consensus now be achieved?

36

Hector_St_Clare 11.22.13 at 6:59 am

OtPup,

Out of the top 12 states by population, four of them are R, six are D, and two are purple (Ohio and Florida). Of the bottom 12, six are R, five are D, and one is purple (New Hampshire). there is a bias, but it’s not overwhelming.

37

Brett 11.22.13 at 7:04 am

One aspect of the US Senate that I do like is the “state election at-large” aspect, with Senators being elected by the entire state instead of having specific districts that can be manipulated to partisan advantage by state legislatures. That’s something I’d like to keep even if we changed it to a more proportional body.

@Hector St. Claire

The issue there is it’s not entirely clear whether Puerto Ricans actually want to be a state. The statehood option has, IIRC, just under 50%, and is strongly dependent on the language issue (a majority would vote for statehood if they were guaranteed protection against Anglicization). I might be remembering this a bit wrong, but while there may be a majority there favouring statehood, it’s not an overwhelming one.

I figure that if they ever really want to become the 51st state with overwhelming support, they’ll do the referendum and petition on their own without US government prompting. No need to rush it, especially since support for the other major alternative – independence – is tiny there.

38

dn 11.22.13 at 7:25 am

Seriously, you’re worried about the speed of legislation in the US Senate? Come on. The US already has more veto points than are good for it. We have a bicameral legislature where both chambers have absolute veto power, one of whose members are elected to staggered six-year terms (one of the few useful innovations of the framers I would keep in my ideal system), along with further powerful checks provided by both the executive and the courts, and an impossibly slow constitutional amendment procedure. We are by nature one of the slowest-moving democracies on earth even without the filibuster (which, as has already been said, did not even exist in its present form until recent decades; somehow we survived).

39

bad Jim 11.22.13 at 7:38 am

AJ: “How will consensus now be achieved?”

Precisely as the founders intended, with a bare majority including the Vice President.

40

bad Jim 11.22.13 at 7:58 am

The Republicans abused the filibuster. They broke it. Whatever use it may have served in the past (mostly for vile ends) is irrelevant. Until now it was never used to subvert every single effort by the majority; it was never routine, but the Republicans have gone around the bend and they can’t resist. Half the time the magic spell has been cast have been in the last five years, and it’s a weak spell. It’s worn out, used up, discredited.

41

Jonas 11.22.13 at 8:00 am

@30. Yea, I’m glad this excludes the Supremes. I remember being on the other side of this with W. How quickly memory evaporates!

42

Mao Cheng Ji 11.22.13 at 8:49 am

“I’m one of those people who happen to think the Senate was a scandal from the very beginning.”

But at the beginning the idea of the federal government was to be the arbiter of disputes between the states, plus the defense and foreign affairs. And even that proved to be too much, and led to a civil war. The country is too big, the politics of Vermont and Louisiana have nothing in common. Democracy as ‘the rule by federal level politicians elected by proportional number people’ might turn out even worse, for this kind of country. What if states began seceding? Will you be willing to bomb Burlington or Huston to enforce your democratic principles?

43

Anderson 11.22.13 at 9:04 am

41: nuke Houston from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

44

bad Jim 11.22.13 at 9:05 am

We have cemeteries all over the country full of people who died for the sake of our democratic principles.

45

nick s 11.22.13 at 9:55 am

now the Senate is neither fish nor fowl, and as a result fails to represent anyone or anything adequately

Well, it represents the primary industries of the state, which are often dictated by the race-to-the-bottom concessions that a state government makes to those industries. So you had Delaware’s Joe Biden voting for a horrendous bankruptcy bill at the behest of the financial services industry, and Illinois’ Barack Obama voting for corn ethanol subsidies, or Minnesota’s Al Franken voting to help medical device manufacturers retain more of their profits, or California’s Barbara Boxer voting on behalf of Hollywood to extend copyright terms to forever minus a day.

The Senate is at the root of many shitty, regressive policies, from agriculture to something awful beginning with Z.

46

Mao Cheng Ji 11.22.13 at 10:48 am

@44, So what. These are not politics of the senate, these are the politics of any bourgeois democracy. Besides, I don’t see how serving state industries is worse than serving multinational corporations.

47

Phil 11.22.13 at 1:42 pm

In a supposedly consensual institution i always thought it was a scandal that Senators representing over 80% of the population COULDN’T stop a presidential appt.

48

CharleyCarp 11.22.13 at 2:48 pm

No Senate, no union in 1787.

Can’t change the number of senators without the consent of every state affected — so, no, 3/4ths of the states is still not sufficient.

The idea that a senator is somehow less sensitive to the interests of a state because he’s been elected at large, rather than appointed by the legislature, is probably way overstated. State governments are also tripartite, various branches in one sort of flux or another throughout a senator’s 6 year term. The representative of the state government theory would be plausible if senators were appointed by the governor (and confirmed by state senate), and served at his/her pleasure. Instead, the old system meant that the senator was among the most notable of notables, of the party in control at the time. Oh, look who the senators are now.

49

MPAVictoria 11.22.13 at 3:00 pm

“How will consensus now be achieved?”

No consensus is possible with Conservatives. They have to be beaten and then beaten again pretty much forever. I am surprised that you haven’t realized this.

50

Phil 11.22.13 at 3:11 pm

BTW, since the Senate was basically an institution meant to defend white supremacy and it has largely failed in that endeavor, can we get rid of it now?

If it means no Union anymore, as a New Yorker, I think I’m ok with that.

51

Glenn 11.22.13 at 3:13 pm

As many have said, the equal-representation compromise was almost certainly necessary for the Constitution to be accepted. But at least originally I’m not sure it wasn’t defensible even without appealing to necessity. You had 13 states — in the international sense of that word, at least in their own eyes — and you were asking them to unite and cede a good portion of their sovereignty to the new union. An expectation that they would still be represented qua states is not a crazy notion. If the EU today were to formally consolidate into one nation, retention of some body that would reflect individual (former) states qua states would not strike me as per se indefensible (though, in light of American experience, unwise).

Now, at least in the US, over the years this conception of the states as “states” rather than subunits of the nation has largely eroded (arguably anyway). Part of that is probably due to the fact that most of the subsequent 37 additions had no prior existence as “states,” and part of that is the growing importance of the national government (from the 1860s forward). And that’s in large part what leads to the largely correct view that now the Senate is a fucking scandal (in my view). Perhaps the greatest mistake of the founders was making the equal-representation Senate non-amendable; they probably should have, instead, included a sunset provision for the institution.

52

Mao Cheng Ji 11.22.13 at 3:52 pm

“Now, at least in the US, over the years this conception of the states as “states” rather than subunits of the nation has largely eroded”

Calling them ‘subunits’ doesn’t really change anything. Either the Federales govern the population directly (which, to a significant degree, they don’t) and then indeed each person should have a vote, – or they govern these ‘subunits’ (which, to a significant degree, they do, by giving them various grant-incentives and so on), and then a ‘subunit’ should be the elementary voting entity; one ‘subunit’ – one vote (or two, as the case may be). The structure of the Senate seems perfectly fine, logical. Same as the UN GA, or, say, a condo association. The righteous indignation here is really mystifying.

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Hector_St_Clare 11.22.13 at 3:53 pm

Re: If it means no Union anymore, as a New Yorker, I think I’m ok with that.

I don’t entirely disagree with this, but New York would certainly run into some problems without access to the oil from Texas, Louisiana and North Dakota. Maybe you could get hydroelectric power from Canada.

Of course, if the South was its own country, without the North to keep race relations at least moderately civilized, it would quite possible devolve into a bloody race war, which would be a lot worse.

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Phil 11.22.13 at 4:37 pm

I think NY will get its oil the same way it does now. By buying it.

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Martin James 11.22.13 at 6:39 pm

For those that think democracy is a good thing, how much of that is that is based on democracy being something like a fundamental right, irrespective of the outcomes it produces and how much is based on democracy being more likely to produce good outcomes?

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dn 11.22.13 at 6:41 pm

Mao @45 – Exactly. It’s not that individual senators represent special interests – it’s that the body as a whole is representative of nothing because it is so unequal and distorted. At least when they represented the state governments, you could argue that there was some reason for them to be on an equal footing in a federal system where so much is reserved to the state governments. (It may not be a particularly good reason – it leads to things like this – but it is a comprehensible reason.)

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Theophylact 11.22.13 at 6:43 pm

Texas is practically the only “red state” that receives less money from the Federal Government than it pays. Even Alaska, so rich with oil that its citizens pay no taxes and receive an annual payment from the “permanent fund”, is a net gainer from Federal money.

Cut ’em loose.

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AJ 11.22.13 at 7:33 pm

@48- I am making an argument even Drew Faust might have been able to come up with. You don’t need my type of brain to come up with this.

The essential point remains. This is a problem because the change is permanent. Something like this has not been done since the 70’s. The center of gravity of the Republican Party is not likely to stay where it is right now. If there is a political slant to this analysis, well, then this is a high-IQ-Centrist-but-not-ideological point of view.

In this entire episode, I would like to draw your attention to the ‘strategy’ of Shishupala. By being extremely boastful, he ended up staying out of the Mahabharata War. I think I am achieving exactly the same thing. LOL.

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AJ 11.22.13 at 7:39 pm

It was Rukmi, of course. I was just waiting to see if anybody would correct me.

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GiT 11.22.13 at 7:41 pm

“If there is a political slant to this analysis, well, then this is a high-IQ-Centrist-but-not-ideological point of view.”

“High IQ centrists” and “not ideological point of view” sound like a contradiction in terms.

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Ed 11.22.13 at 8:53 pm

What dn #22 and Glenn #50 said.

The 1789 Senate was created for two reasons. The first reason is that states were thought of as much more sovereign than they are now, and in fact under the Articles of Confederation, Congress was made up of delegations sent by the state legislatures, each with an equal vote (essentially Congress WAS the Senate). So there was an argument for incorporating what was the existing arrangement into the new federal government.

Also with semi-sovereign states, it was thought important to get most of the states to consent to treaties and to the makeup of the federal judiciary. Another way to have done this was to simply require two thirds of the state legislatures to agree to these things, but you already has a Senate made up of appointees from the state legislatures, so you could save time by just requiring the Senate to consent.

The second reason was to help preserve slavery. Particularly after the attempt to have slaves count as equal to citizens for apportionment purposes was defeated, the slave states wanted to counter potential opposition to slavery from the free citizens in the northern states as they became more populous. Having the president elected on a state by state basis (even with votes weighted by population) and having the Senate chosen on a state by state basis (without any weighting by population) worked effectively to do this. One result was obsessive political maneuvering to maintain equal number of slave and free states over the next seventy years.

Ifs often overlooked that in 1790 the Senate was made up of thirty members (two Senators from each of the original thirteen, plus Kentucky and Vermont). There were lots of provisions requiring two thirds agreement, but its much easier to get 20 out of 30 Senators to agree to anything (you only need four more than you would for a bare majority) than 67 out of 100 or even 60 out of 100. One potential reform that would just have the institution working more in accordance with how the original framers conceived would be to cut the number of Senators to one per state.

Anyway, both the original reasons for the Senate are now dead letter, largely because of the Civil War. Obviously there is not much point in keeping aspects of the federal government designed largely to defend slavery (the same applies to the Electoral College). The civil war undercut state sovereignty in a big way, and the victorious Unionists/ Republicans took to gerrymandering the states admitted to the Union after 1861 to entrench their rule (most obviously with West Virginia and Nevada, but this also applies to the Dakotas and Wyoming; though the Northeastern state boundaries have always been screwed up, the boundaries and populations of the states admitted between 1800 and 1848 generally made sense).

After that, electing Senators directly completed the transition of the Senate to a less workable version of the House, chosen from unequal districts instead of gerrymandered districts.

So the institution should be abolished, but at least getting parts of the federal government properly staffed is still a useful reform.

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AJtron the Invincible 11.22.13 at 9:10 pm

@59 – that is a fair point.

Ideological points of view may be driven by religious beliefs, deeply held political biases and other beliefs that color an analysis. Mine is not. That is the point I was making. So it is not a contradiction. In decision analytic terms, this analysis does not have any dependency in terms of political beliefs for its validity. The question is whether you are optimizing for the long-term and if there are risk factors R1, R2, …,Rn that have not been considered when doing a long run analysis.

In view of the tone and tenor of certain commenters (MPA Victoria, e.g.) and given that I don’t still know who they are, I am going to optionally post as a firm “AJtron the invincible” (when I deem that appropriate). And in that context, I will add that my analysis is good. It stands. There is a definite danger to the American Senate as a system itself as a result of this change. And that is a bad, bad thing.

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AJtron the Invincible 11.22.13 at 9:12 pm

The firm believes that its analysis is based on the well considered opinions of well educated, High IQ individuals, and that the analysis is solid.

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Ed 11.22.13 at 9:23 pm

I’ll add too points. If you are going to change the Constitution, it is probably politically easier to abolish the Senate (or the states!) altogether than to try to reform it, and it gets around the stupid metaconstitutional provision about equal representation in the Senate, since with no Senate the states retain an equal number of Senators, eg zero (though I think electing the Senators nationally, or making the whole thing appointive like the Canadian Senate, would also past muster).

If you are not going to change the Constitution, I would like to at least see a convention that half the committee chairs go to Senators from the most populous states, regardless of seniority. The US now has a situation where over half the population lives in just nine states, and federal institutions should at least informally and administratively adjust to reflect that fact.

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Collin Street 11.22.13 at 9:45 pm

The righteous indignation here is really mystifying.

The underlying problem is actually in the state borders, which are… odd. The square-states-in-the-middle are too small and also too similar to each other: they are neither economic units nor cultural ones nor significant slices of same, and have no distinctive interests warranting personalised representation. You could merge wyoming with both dakotas and not lose a damned thing.

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dn 11.22.13 at 10:52 pm

Mao @52 – but that’s just it; the decline of state sovereignty has been real, not merely cosmetic. From the beginning the entire federalist vs. anti-federalist debate concerned the ceding of state sovereignty, especially on that most fundamental and contentious of matters – taxation! In the antebellum period “states’ rights” was not merely a reactionary rallying cry but a real threat to the constitutional order – hence the debate over the legality of secession, which prompted Lincoln’s famous argument for the perpetuity of the Union.

The Civil War was Lincoln’s victory over the defenders of state sovereignty; it’s just that the Constitution itself has only partially caught up with that reality, leaving anachronistic vestiges like the Senate to plague us to this day. That the feds don’t rule “directly” in all matters (though they do in some!) is besides the point; the federal government is supreme, it is ever-present in our lives, and as Lincoln famously said, it is (or ought to be) a government of, for, and by the people.

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Ed Herdman 11.22.13 at 11:48 pm

@ rw and the “echo chamber” of the Senate

“Echo chamber” implies that there is some original storyline to bounce around. Where does it come from? You can make a good guess about its origins by looking at the demographics of the Senate, and by comparing those demographics with those of the people they nominally represent.

It’s intended to be reflective of the will of the people, on some issues, so that the chamber echoes seems reasonable to me. Jury’s probably still out on whether the increased speed of modern communication has any impact (and whether positive or negative) on the stultifying effects intended by the Framers.

I don’t understand dismissing the percentage of representation that the Congress speaks for. As it’s split by the WaPo article in terms of how many voters the Senators represent, you can be sure that’s still inflated from the group whose interests the Senators actually represent.

Just as worrisome are the other ways in the Senate isn’t responsive. All members of Congress are wealthier than the average American, and this is reflected in the unwillingness of those members to shift the tax burden (despite what I believe are still persistent and extremely positive poll numbers in support of a policy change).

Otherwise, I think “echo chamber” is too vague a term. But I’m all for flinging a few sour grapes at the Senate when necessary.

I also think it’s hilarious that changing the filibuster rules was ever called the “nuclear option,” especially in light of the incredibly slight shift in power. This is a case of the media not doing any homework (but ehhh math) and just regurgitating what the pols feed them. I think the canny boxer of the Senate has done a good turn here, but at the end of the day it’s up to the people to grab back power – if they care to.

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.23.13 at 2:20 am

“the federal government is supreme, it is ever-present in our lives”

Is it, really? In my experience it’s not the feds but the state and local governments that are ever-present in our lives. They pave the streets, finance the schools, regulate the utilities, impose zoning rules. They give you your driver’s license and your gun permit, they register your car and inspect your electrical outlets. They license you as a RE broker or a lawyer. They hire teachers, cops, and firefighters. They run the courts that decide a vast majority of the criminal and civil cases, and most of the jails. They control the things that matter. Yes, social security is a federal program, but it pretty much runs on autopilot.

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dn 11.23.13 at 5:39 am

The federal government is nonetheless present all around us in supremely significant ways. The US military matters; so does the Federal Reserve; so does the Postal Service; so do all the internal improvements that the feds have funded; so do all the regulatory agencies; so does, yes, the welfare state, not all of which runs on autopilot.

The real question is: what is our national self-definition? Are we Americans first or citizens of our states first? If we value our Union and our democracy alike, why should we countenance the continued existence of a federal legislative body that so distorts democracy? Or at least, why do we permit it such great power?

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CharleyCarp 11.23.13 at 6:32 am

The problem isn’t the sparsely populated states. It’s the overstuffed coastal states. California should be divided into 5 at least. New York maybe 3 maybe 4. What strange reason could there be for having Pittsburgh, State College, and Philadelphia all in one state? Why are Arlington, Norfolk, and Roanoke in the same state? No, you people in the populous states with your sentimental attachments to your historic identities, that’s why you’re “underrepresented” in the Senate.

If you think you’re underrepresented, secede. And you can do it, if you can get enough people to agree with you. The Maine Option.

Oh, I forgot. The rules of this game require people to lament reality as it is and propose solutions that are utterly impossible (eg getting states you don’t live in to merge or dissolve). Proposing something that is actually constitutionally permissible and, if you can get people in your polity to agree, practically possible is out of bounds.

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.23.13 at 10:18 am

Yes, thank you, the postman is one fed you meet. And he could be the only one you meet in your whole life. The unemployment insurance is mostly a state-level program. Even medicaid is defined and run by the state. If you’re an ordinary (mostly apolitical) person (like most people are) you have no idea what the federal reserve is, and the idea that one would vote for a federal politician in order to influence the federal reserve (and how?) is ludicrous. You vote for your local and state reps because you want more snow-plows, the potholes fixed, and liquor store to open on Sundays. That’s democracy. The federal part is pure circus.

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.23.13 at 10:34 am

“Are we Americans first or citizens of our states first?”

I don’t think there exist a single person who is Americans first and the member of his/her immediate community (not even the state) second. It’s just seem contrary to what human being are. Nation-state nationalism is a recent invention, sustained by propaganda, imposition of the official national language, mass media. It’s a transitory phenomenon.

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Ed 11.23.13 at 3:21 pm

Charley Carp #70, I’ve always thought it curious that no one in California has used their initiative system to put a proposal on the ballot to split the place up. There is no eccentric billionaire available in the entire state to fund this? Its especially odd given some of the proposals that have made it the ballot. Also, whenever a secession proposal makes it onto the ballot somewhere, its always some places in the sticks where the people don’t want anything to do with “gubmint” or the big cities and which don’t really have the tax base to make a viable state (these always get voted down). You never see a city try to secede from their state, though the way the American system is set up tax dollars from cities are always sent to rural areas, never the other way around.

But actually all this implies that the system is rigged enough so that the existing states are not going to split unless the powerbrokers in the state capital want them to split. The only divorces will be Czechoslovakia style divorces. The Maine separation was a one-off political deal made as part of the maneuvering to keep the number of free and slave states equal, and I don’t think Massachusetts pols really cared about keeping a remote and impoverished part of the state (the same reason why Virginia pols don’t make a fuss over losing West Virginia, even though that particular split was almost certainly unconstitutional, and why Maryland pols don’t want D.C.).

In any case, the problem with the malapportionment in the Senate really is about the small population states, and can’t be solved by splitting the big states. The estimated population of Wyoming is 576,000. The estimated population of California is 38,041,000 (checking Wikipedia for the figures). To eliminate the discrepancy, you would have to split California into seventy states, not five. Even to bring the discrepancy down to ten to one you would need to split California into eight states, one of which would be the city -not the county, the city- of Los Angeles (population 3,858,000). Consolidating the least populous states -the ones, excluding Alaska, whose House delegation is smaller than their Senate delegation- is unavoidable in any serious reform of the U.S. federal system.

Mao Cheng Ji, have you heard of the concept of “federal mandates”?

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MPAVictoria 11.23.13 at 3:27 pm

“I don’t think there exist a single person who is Americans first and the member of his/her immediate community (not even the state) second”

Have you actually met any Americans?

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JanieM 11.23.13 at 3:32 pm

I don’t think there exist a single person who is Americans first and the member of his/her immediate community (not even the state) second.

This is impossible to prove or refute, since the entire idea is ridiculously slippery. But I think it’s dead wrong, even aside from the silliness of making absolute statements about “not a single person.”

For one thing, many people are too transient to feel very much a part of their “immediate” community (whatever that means: Boston? Brooklyn? Cherry Valley, Ohio?) or even their state, since they’ve lived in a variety of places and expect to live in more in the future.

Beyond that, my experience, which I doubt is uncommon, is that being “American” has been hugely important on both sides of my family: my dad’s side, where my grandparents were immigrants from Italy in the early part of the 20th century, and my mom’s, where lines of ancestry have been traced to Connecticut in the 1630s, including a founder of New Haven.

On the immigrant side, there was a lot of importance placed on becoming and being American (and “talking American” instead of the language of “the old country” — and yes, my grandfather called the language “American,” not “English”), especially in a context where there was a lot of overt prejudice against “Italians” (there weren’t hyphenated Americans in those days, at least where I grew up) on a local level. On the other side, there was a lot of pride in having been Americans even before the nation existed as such, and in having ancestors who fought in the Revolution. On both sides there was pride in having been served in the American military in two world wars.

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MPAVictoria 11.23.13 at 3:36 pm

“The firm believes that its analysis is based on the well considered opinions of well educated, High IQ individuals, and that the analysis is solid.”

The audience disagrees.

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JanieM 11.23.13 at 3:38 pm

The Maine Option

Such options never die, they just get referamed.

Noises have been made about northern/eastern Maine becoming part of Atlantic Canada.

On another axis, people have made noises (not that anyone is listening very hard) about splitting the state in two across an east-west line. Where the line would be drawn depends on who’s talking. Both the northerners and the southerners want the other side to take the middle.

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JanieM 11.23.13 at 3:39 pm

referamed -> reframed

[gaaa, I’m traveling, too much haste]

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LFC 11.23.13 at 4:30 pm

Mao Cheng Ji
Nation-state nationalism is a recent invention, sustained by propaganda, imposition of the official national language, mass media. It’s a transitory phenomenon.

‘Recent’ does not equal ‘transitory’.
John Breuilly’s Nationalism and the State (which, as w quite a few bks, I’ve looked at rather than thoroughly read) is a comprehensive study of the varieties of the phenomenon. I see from Amazon that Breuilly also wrote the intro for the new (’09) edition of Gellner’s Nations and Nationalism.

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Hector_St_Clare 11.23.13 at 4:33 pm

Re: I don’t think there exist a single person who is Americans first and the member of his/her immediate community (not even the state) second.

This is nonsense. America is actually a remarkably homogeneous country (in terms of state vs. state differences), compared to most large countries and even a lot of mid-sized countries. People in any two American states can mostly be counted on to all speak the same language, vote for the same two political parties, listen to the same music, and even the economic gap between states is probably a lot smaller than in India, Russia or Brazil. What you are saying is probably true for a lot of people in other large countries, but much less so in America.

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LFC 11.23.13 at 4:43 pm

I don’t know how Mao is defining ‘transitory’ but even if you date modern “nation-state nationalism” from the mid-19th cent. (in the European context) that’s still a long time. For states that developed earlier (eg France and England/ Britain) it wd go back further than that.

There are proto-nationalisms that can be discerned well before the modern nation-state existed. I had occasion to be looking recently at my copy of Kantorowicz’s monumental (the overworked word is apt) The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology which has a section discussing this, citing inter alia Gaines Post’s 1953 article “Two Notes on Nationalism in the Middle Ages.” For a more recent discussion of a somewhat later period, see e.g. Norman Housley, “Pro deo et patria mori: Sanctified Patriotism in Europe, 1400-1600,” in Contamine, ed., War and Competition between States (2000).

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LFC 11.23.13 at 5:18 pm

Btw, recall the passage in Tocqueville about how boastful he found Americans to be. They were boasting mainly about the country as a whole (not their particular corner of it).

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dn 11.23.13 at 11:46 pm

I’m encouraged to see pushback on the idea that American national identity doesn’t matter to Americans. Mao may see a culturally Balkanized US but that doesn’t tally well with my experience at all. I acknowledge that, as JanieM says, that the terms I used are infelicitous in their conceptual slipperiness – but it seems to me that most Americans do possess a certain cosmopolitanism and sense of national solidarity that is unusual for a country of this size. “America” may be a myth, but it’s a myth that a lot of people have believed in for a long time now, and like it or not the long arc of our culture and politics has generally bent towards the national. (“The politics of Vermont and Louisiana have nothing in common” – but what about the politics of New Hampshire and Louisiana? The behavior of the major parties is actually remarkably consistent throughout the country. The substantial divides are not sectional – they are 1. urban/exurban, and 2. racial. Our inability to reach a functional consensus on so many issues is not due to insurmountable political divides but to constitutional institutions that promote both corruption and gridlock. The Senate is one of these.)

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RKW 11.23.13 at 11:55 pm

“You never see a city try to secede from their state”

Mayor Lindsay tried talking up the idea of greater New York City being a state as a way of escaping from the rule of Albany and of Up State Republicans. It got nowhere, primarily because the good folk of Westchester and Long Island wanted no part of being ruled from Gracie Mansion.

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JW Mason 11.24.13 at 12:57 am

I believe Mao lives in Switzerland. (He mentioned it back when he was abb1.) That might explain his perspective on the relative salience of national vs. local identities.

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dn 11.24.13 at 1:08 am

Ah, I was wondering that. It helps greatly in understanding his perspective. (It also makes me interested in his views on the future of the EU, which from my distant perspective seems to suffer from some of the same difficulties as the antebellum US.)

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CharleyCarp 11.24.13 at 1:44 am

I certainly don’t agree that state identities predominate over national for most Americans. They are, however, quite significant, and I wonder if the people poo-pooing them (for people in less populated states, especially) know any Americans either. We all wear a number of different identities at the same time — father, husband, lawyer, Democrat, Montanan, American, WASP, human, Red Sox fan, skier, mountain biker, internet blowhard. Each exists in a context, and will likely be weakly or strongly held at different times. But just try to take one away at gun point, and see how you do.

Folks who want to “reform” the Senate or eliminate states are asking someone else to give up something that (a) the person asking doesn’t care about losing and (b) has real value to the person being asked to give it up. In the coercion fantasy so many people like to entertain, what is California offering me to give up my Senate representation? Nothing. No, wait, nothing but the subjugation by a distant polity. No thinks.

It’s the exact issue that was presented in 1787, and the answer is the same now as then.

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Collin Street 11.24.13 at 1:53 am

It’s the exact issue that was presented in 1787, and the answer is the same now as then.

State boundaries bore some resemblence to sanity in 1787. The post-civil-war states are bullshit.

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CharleyCarp 11.24.13 at 1:57 am

(The Montana-Montana State football game was today. Attended by the gov, our congressman [who had a bet with our AG, an alum of the other school], our senior US senator, and a full stadium otherwise. The forces of light and goodness did not prevail [as indeed they have very rarely done since the mid 80s]. Identities of this type are running high just now.)

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CharleyCarp 11.24.13 at 2:00 am

Where do you live Collin? What do you know about the differences between Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho? Because your comment indicates it ain’t much.

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Collin Street 11.24.13 at 2:11 am

I mean, seriously. Can anyone think of any problem, any problem whatsoever, where the best area to tackle it over is “the geographic limits of the state of Illinois”? Because I can’t, and if you can’t either then the set of problems best addressed by the illinois state government is empty and the purpose of the illinois state government void.

Sure, as a badge of cultural identity it’s fine, but as a governmental subunit it’s a horrible horrible stupid idea.

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Trader Joe 11.24.13 at 2:19 am

Further to some of the points above – a Pew study some years ago found that 57% of Americans live in a single state their whole lives. As such, its fair to say most Americans have a pretty significant identification with the issues of their state and that there is an identification with the politics on both a state level and the national level.

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dn 11.24.13 at 2:38 am

I may detest the Senate but I also don’t have any illusions about changing it anytime soon. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems to me that the US would have done well to rewrite the whole Constitution after Appomattox, rather than kludging the whole thing by shoehorning a handful of amendments into the existing structure ad hoc. But it wasn’t to be, and now we’re stuck, for better or worse – I’m quite certain it will take another existential crisis to bring about that level of change.

If any Senate reform becomes possible, it will not be done by redrawing the states or by apportioning the Senate by population but by simply curtailing the chamber’s power. It won’t be abolished but will be made subject to override by the House, like in the UK. Of course as crappy as the Senate is, Article V is an even worse affront to democracy; perhaps “amend Article V” should become a long-term progressive goal?

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.24.13 at 7:00 pm

“I’m encouraged to see pushback on the idea that American national identity doesn’t matter to Americans.”

I didn’t say it doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. I said it doesn’t come before the local identity, like ‘New Yorker’, or ‘North Shore’ (for someone from, say, Peabody, MA). Surely, someone from, say, ‘the Vineyard’ only feels like ‘American’ when s/he is abroad, or something big happens internationally. Most of the time s/he is someone ‘from the Vineyard’. Just like my faithful biographer JW Mason probably feels most of the time like a ‘New Yorker’.

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dn 11.24.13 at 7:25 pm

Reminds me of the old joke:

To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
To Americans, a Yankee is a Northerner.
To Northerners, a Yankee is an Easterner.
To Easterners, a Yankee is a New Englander.
To New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter.
And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast.

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SamChevre 11.25.13 at 3:12 pm

Mao Cheng Ji @ 68

In my experience it’s not the feds but the state and local governments that are ever-present in our lives…. They control the things that matter.

That really misses the mechanisms. States administer the things that matter, but federal mandates enforced by federal taxes being rebated to states if they follow the federal government’s whims, and backed up by “do it our way, or we’ll send our army and make you” mean that they don’t govern–they only administer.

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Minor Heretic 11.26.13 at 4:55 pm

I did a post on my own blog a little while back, figuring out the senatorial “clout ratio” between states. Wyoming has a 66:1 clout ratio to California, given their populations. My home state of Vermont has a 61:1 clout ratio to CA. My recommendation was to give every state at least one senator and otherwise round off a state’s percentage of the national population and give it that many senators. California would get 12, Texas 8, New York and Florida 6, and so on. Vermont would get one, of course, as would Wyoming. We’d end up with 112 senators. It would reduce the maximum clout ratio to 6:1. Still some political insurance for small states, but not egregiously out of balance. As a Vermonter I’d be willing to give up a senator for greater national democracy. We’re like that up here.

By the way, among the original 13 states the maximum clout ratio in the senate was 11.7, between Virginia and Delaware. James Madison, in The Federalist #62, lamely excused it as the best that could be done, with no real political or philosophical principle behind it.

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