As the Roberts nomination hearings drag on and people get a chance to see just how stupid and pompous many senators are, on both sides of the aisle, a lot of people have begun thinking about the Seventeenth Amendment, which provided for direct election of senators. Some are now saying that this was a bad thing, and would like it repealed.
Some history is in order, since almost nobody knows how senators were chosen at first. Originally, the only body of government that was elected by the people was the House of Representatives; the president was elected by specially-chosen delegates to the Electoral College, of course, but senators were sent to Washington by the various state legislatures. Often the Senator would be a powerful former member of the state legislature; just as often he would be a tool of more powerful members of the legislature. But it is significant that the more powerful house of Congress was filled with people intimately connected to and responsible to the state governments.
At present, the state governments have practically no input into the workings of the Federal government, particularly not with respect to the formation of law. It is unsurprising that Congress frequently offers huge Federal grants to the states on the condition that they change their laws to match what their betters in Washington desire. In effect, Congress is now dictating policy to the states on a regular basis. This would not happen so often if the state governments themselves chose their senators.
(Indeed, that was the intention of the original arrangement. The Senate is primarily arranged to protect the rights of individual states, with equal representation for each government instead of for each citizen.)
At any rate, because senators are now subject to the people instead of their legislatures, instead of being an elite of the elites, many have the same general characteristics as most of their compatriots in the House: cheap populism and parochialism. This is something of an unfair libel; yet while once the Senate was known as a seat of skillful oratory, now Senate proceedings are boring and forgettable. I challenge my readers to come up with one quoteworthy speech from the last twenty years on a legislative issue…
For myself, I would much prefer that the 17th Amendment were repealed. It would refocus voters' attention back to the state legislatures, many of which have taken the opportunity granted by their relative unimportance to become backward, corrupt cesspools of political idiocy of the first order. But I would also like the House of Representatives to be abolished entirely and replaced by direct popular voting on legislation, just to make things interesting.
Hmm. I really should upload my paper on that subject.