Monday, August 16, 2010

Someday But Not Soon

I was talking to James Madison the other day and he agreed something went wrong with Washington. Yes, the influence of corporations, buying of votes etc.... Yes, the former imperial presidency. Yes, the conservative ideologues on the high court. But he put his finger on a problem more structural. It was enough to upset his constitution.

It's our anachronistic bicameral legislative branch; specifically the United States Senate. Madison recalled how it all came about; a concession to those tiny hunks of territory such as Delaware and Rhode Island which were really land grants from British royalty, just to get them to ratify the document.

Whereas the House of Representatives is directly apportioned to the population, the upper house reserves two seats for each state regardless of whether it has more cattle than humans or if it is smaller than a large crowd. James M. admitted that at the time the Senate was regarded as the “wealthiest and wisest” institution while the House was seen as more “passionate and fickle.” Not so and probably never was.

Why does Montana with a population less than a one million have the same two votes as California with its 37.5 million? This is the American version of the House Of Lords. Jimmie Madison agreed.

Consider this: The so-called Red States, comprised of the former Confederacy plus a few scattered others have elected forty senators. These 37 men and 3 women represent less than 30% of the population of this country.

Short as he is at 5 ft. 4 in, my new best friend, Jim, loomed over me, incensed. He was appalled to learn how thirty percent of the electorate, through the threat of filibuster, control the passage of all legislation. I had to explain to him how the rules of the Senate usurped his intentions.

He also rose to his feet upon learning that the average age in the Senate was 68 years (before Robert Byrd's death) while the national average comes in at 35. Furthermore we have seventeen women standing in for 51% of the general population. There are now three Hispanics, two Asians and one Black in the Senate. Hardly representative governance, the Senate looks more like an Old Boy's club than the demographics of the line at Costco or Target or the DMV or a Dodger game.

J.M. and I agreed that it was time to recall the entire senatorial body and make do with a single legislative branch. Let them do their work for five or six years so their primary job is not fund-raising. Let the majority rule. Let them take back their mandate of declaring war .....or nay. Let them advise & consent. It should be noted that there are 39 Black Congressmen and women which comprises nine percent of the entire body, very close to the national average,

Was he just being agreeable or did I covince him that the Senate was an ill-conceived body of the elite; an institution well-suited for a convocation of the privleged whose purpose was to push back against social progress?

The two of us then sat down over a jug of cheap wine and I told him my next modest proposal: Since we've done away with the Senate is there really any reason for all these states? Why are the Dakotas divided horizontally? What is the difference between Kansas and Nebraska or the Carolinas? Can we not consider dividing the 48 continental states into four or six regional sections? At this point he slipped under the table and I thought I heard him dialing his more radical friend, Tom Jefferson, who said something about refreshing our system periodically.


  1. I talked to Hamilton and he said Madison was full of baloney.

  2. You spoke to Irving Hamilton, his younger and dumber brother, who is a baloney salesman

  3. Gentlemen! Gentlemen! George W. (no, not the dumb one from Texas) wanted me to remind you all that the problem lies not with the legislative bodies but with the hearts of men and women. Human kind is deeply flawed and without redeeming value. Without the constitution, we would be killing each other on the streets. Time to abolish the right to bear arms before the world explodes from stupidity. And by the way, Ben dropped in for a smoke and a roll in the hay with the neighborhood widow.

  4. "Problems lie not in legislative bodies but in the hearts & minds of people." Only in part because because legislators themselves presumably come into the chamber with their hearts and minds. The two cannot be separated. Civil Rights laws MOVED the hearts & minds of the slumbering South. Some injustices are so egregious they can't wait for a spiritual awakening.

  5. Was it the laws that moved the south or the hearts and minds of those who put their lives on the line with the freedom riders, the Birmingham bus boycott, etc? All it takes is enough bad hearts in congress and the laws will be rewritten. Consider what happened after the civil war and the laws of segregation.

    For all our ideals as a nation, we stumble and fall many times when it comes to treating our brothers and sisters with love.

    We have the technology today to give every man and woman the opportunity to vote on every piece of legislation and bypass congress all together. But for me that would be scary. The majority can be very cruel. While congress makes mistakes because it is make up of human beings, every so often someone has the courage to stand up and do the right thing.

  6. But why keep in place a body such as the Senate which flaunts representative government from its inception...first by 120 years of indirect elections and now through the routine use the filabuster rule which affirms the tyranny of the minority party which votes as a block?

    What we are witnessing now is a last gasp pushback against despartely-needed social programs and the pull-back of an arrogant, mis-guided foreign policy. Bereft of a single policy agenda the Senate can only obstruct legislation and block appointments. They are badly is mis-aligned with the public good

  7. My thought. As an independent, it will be awhile before i vote for another Republican for office. The behavior of the current crop is unacceptable. On another level, it is like term limits. We don't need them. Our vote equals term limits. If you don't like them, vote them out of office. I am in agreement with why you are unhappy with congress. I just don't think we should throw out the baby with the bath water.