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The 17th Amendment Scores a Tiny Little Point
when virtue resides pretty much nowhere
John Adams anticipated the arrival of Gavin Newsom, and the laugh-out-loud horrible appointment he just made to the Senate. But let’s start at the beginning.
The Constitution initially assigned the choice of senators to the state legislatures, on the reasoning that it would give the states a degree of direct influence in the national government, balancing the federal system. Senators were to be older than representatives, and to be citizens for at least nine years, because they needed the maturity and independence to serve in the body that gave advice and consent in foreign affairs.
But Publius also hinted that senators appointed by state legislatures would come from state legislatures, where men would choose their wisest colleagues to represent their interests in the central government. The upper house would therefore be filled with statesmen, well-trained in the purposes of republican government. Federalist 62:
Another defect to be supplied by a senate lies in a want of due acquaintance with the objects and principles of legislation. It is not possible that an assembly of men called for the most part from pursuits of a private nature, continued in appointment for a short time, and led by no permanent motive to devote the intervals of public occupation to a study of the laws, the affairs, and the comprehensive interests of their country, should, if left wholly to themselves, escape a variety of important errors in the exercise of their legislative trust.
So the Senate was supposed to be the national storehouse of wisdom, restraint, discipline, and worldly experience. You may already be seeing that we wandered away from this idea at some point.
The 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, gave voters the power to directly elect senators, reducing the influence of state legislatures and opening the upper house to mass media popularity contests. The 16th Amendment — “Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes” — was ratified the same year, a one-two punch of Progressive centralization of power.
The democratizing and centralizing character of the 17th Amendment gave us a parade of powerful idiots that culminated in John Fetterman, passing through Mazie Hirono and the professional Ted Baxter impersonator Sheldon Whitehouse, so it looks like a failure. But we’ve just run an experiment, thanks to Dianne Feinstein’s white-knuckled grip on her personal status, and the results are…interesting.
The California legislature, in its infinite wisdom, has given the governor the unilateral authority to appoint Feinstein’s replacement, so we’re not quite seeing the exact duplicate of the original constitutional design for the Senate. But we’re seeing something like it: a senator chosen by something other than the popular vote, elevated to the Senate after selection by a longtime state official who has deep personal familiarity with the pool of people who might do the job. You know, a statesman.
Newsom’s choice for Feinstein’s seat is almost miraculous in its awfulness, an appointment distinguished by cravenness and sleazy insiderism. Naming a new senator from a state with 39 million people in it, he has chosen the Maryland resident Laphonza Butler — who has never held any elected office anywhere.
Butler is a career activist and party hack, an SEIU official who went on to run the abortion PAC EMILYs List. She is, in other words, one of the people whose function in life has been to raise money for the Democratic Party. She’s an ATM, and she’s never been anything else. She’s being appointed to the United States Senate without having ever convinced any voters anywhere to elect her to anything, and she’s rising to the upper house of the national legislature with no experience of any kind in any relevant field. Advice and consent on foreign policy? Confirmation of judicial nominees? Well, she has experience raising money for candidates, so. It’s a straight payoff: generate cash for the party for twenty years, get a free high-status ride in the Senate.
Here’s how Newsom explains the choice:
She’s a black lesbian who gives us money, end of statement. California’s idiot politicians find the choice exciting. Here’s the halfwit mayor of San Diego weighing in on it with deep reflection:
And here’s our jackass Attorney General:
No one has any idea what Laphonza Butler thinks of any national policy matter outside the realm of gender and abortion rights. Fiscal policy? Foreign policy? Military policy? Judicial philosophy? TBD. But whatever.
John Adams said that a republican constitutional structure didn’t guarantee republican virtue in government in the absence of civic virtue that resides in the whole body of the people. He saw Gavin Newsom in his nightmares. The 17th Amendment is a moot point: the political class makes the same kinds of choices that we get from the popular vote, so none of it matters.
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