Monday, May 31, 2010

Why the 17th Amendment?

DougJ over at Balloon Juice takes note of the bizarre Tea Bag demands for repeal of the 17th Amendment. That's the Amendment that provides for the direct election of Senators, as opposed to the prior practice of having state legislatures elect Senators.

It is a bizarrely obscure demand and seems to run counter to the "populist" message of the Tea Baggers. Direct election is in actuality far more democratic than the prior practice. And up until now this hardly seemed to be a controversial point. So why the sudden attention to the 17th Amendment? As some have noted it could be based on their inchoate rage at all things "progressive."

I think though that it also reflects the tribal instincts of the GOP base. This is away for a besieged peoples to consolidate their power and thwart the Mongol hordes. (And if you're new to this country let me explain my analogy. In this passion play the besieged peoples are always white Christians. The Mongols are quite literally everyone else in the country.) These are a people convinced of their own intellectual and moral superiority and who see repeal of the 17th Amendment as a way to purify the political process.

In my undergraduate days I had a classmate who was an ardent monarchist. And not in that Quirky College Intellectual way either. Yes, he read a lot of Ayn Rand and identified greatly with her pseudo philosophy but there was a conviction that was creepy and went far beyond the usual immature glibertarian nonsense that one encounters in college. When pushed to outline his preferred form of government he was a strident supporter of out and out Monarchism. His rationale (and this is nearly an exact quote), "Why should my fat lazy fucking sister get as much say in the government as me? She just sits around watching Jerry Springer all day." Having met his sister I could certainly empathize with his view point. Kidding aside it was a disturbed viewpoint for all of the obvious reasons and then some. Was he really comfortable with a completely authoritarian government in order to keep those who he deemed "unworthy" from having a voice in their government. He really was and he held steadfast to this view over many classes, a multitude of professors and several years.

But you get the sense that the same mindset is at work when the Tea Baggers discuss the 17th Amendment. They represent all that is good, moral and superior in this country and why should anyone from another tribe be allowed to vandalize their nation? When Tea Baggers look to the state legislatures they see an insular club of people who look, in a broad sense, remarkably like them.

From the outside of the movement (and to any sane observer) repeal of the 17th Amendment is an un-American and thoroughly anti-democratic step. From within the movement though it is an act of self-preservation for Real Americans. A way to ensure that The Others have less influence over the way America is run.

1 comment:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

The call for the repeal of the 17th Amendment is part of the larger agenda of state sovereignty and a weaker federal government.

They are ideas rooted in the Civil War with a heavy dose of support for a Republic of Texas.

The most respectable argument against the 17th Amendment is that it provides institutional protection for state power in the federal balance that is absent when only federal officials have a say in the operation of the federal government.

It is worth mentioning, however, that there is absolutely nothing monarchist about it. While the antebellum South is romanticized as a aristocratic society of plantation owning gentlemen, the Confederate government was just as anti-monarchist as ours.