James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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I’ll take the vote Tea Partiers don’t want

Posted by James McPherson on June 1, 2010

One thing that some Tea Party folks and I have in common: Apparently neither of us wants them voting for my U.S. senators.

The difference is, unlike some Tea Party Mad Hatters and conservative elitists such as George Will, I’m not willing to give up the right to vote for the Senate candidate of my choice, while bringing back the increased corruption that spawned the 17th Amendment in the first place.

As the New York Times suggests, imagine a thousands of Rob Blogojevich-wannabe-power brokers, and the return of “the old-fashioned American political machine–a condition voters in the Internet age would tolerate for about 10 minutes, maybe less.” (And remember, one of the most common complaints about Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel is their reliance on machine-style politics.)

The argument is that repeal of the 17th Amendment would give power back to states (perhaps by giving increased power to the 10th Amendment). The problem is that it would do so through state legislatures put in office by even fewer people than vote in Senate elections. A general rule of thumb: The smaller the election (and therefore the greater the chance that any individual vote will actually matter), the smaller the percentage of the electorate that will turn out.

State legislators probably are no better today than those chronicled by David Graham Phillips in 1906. I’ll keep my wimpy little vote and the illusion that it matters, thank you. Still, I don’t mind those Tea Partiers causing problems for Republicans, especially since the repeal movement–like the Tea Party movement in general–is likely to fizzle into distant memory in fairly short order.

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8 Responses to “I’ll take the vote Tea Partiers don’t want”

  1. My last comment here was way too long, this one’ll be short.

    The 17th Amendment was a nice idea, but it has had bad side affects. Instead of the Senators jobs being dependent on the legislatures in their home states, their jobs are dependent on the party leaders and wealthy doners. I’m glad one house (The House of Representatives) is directly elected. I’d rather have the other house not spend all their time raising money, obeying party bosses and confirming to the views of the extremes wings of their party.

  2. James McPherson said

    “I’d rather have the other house not spend all their time raising money, obeying party bosses and confirming to the views of the extremes wings of their party.”
    An excellent point. Of course it’s worse in the House than in the Senate, because they run every two years instead of every six. And, sadly, I think the big donors end up as the big winners in either system (direct election or via legislatures).

  3. “sadly, I think the big donors end up as the big winners in either system ”

    On that I think we agree 100%. :( That said, (and though the phrase ‘check and balance’ was never used in the Constitution, the concept is everywhere) I think having the two houses recieve their members via two methods is a good check and balance. The House can represent people’s angers and frustrations and can run around demanding the Senate act more populist, while the Senate can represent their home states and ignore popular sentiment to vote and act as they think is best for the country while telling the House to act more reasonable. Neither method is perfect, but frankly, (and maybe this is ideology on my part) I feel more trust in a Representative Government than a truly Democratic one. So on balance, though I agree with you that repealing the 17th would bring back an older form of corruption, it would also cool down the hyper-partisan rhetoric and allow the Senate to act with a bit more long term view. I’d accept the trade.

  4. James McPherson said

    I agree with your concerns about de Tocqueville called the tyranny of the majority. But I have no more faith in state legislatures, and so can’t quite go for repeal. Maybe I spent too much time living in Idaho and Arizona. :-)

  5. I’ve never heard of de Tocqueville before. Thanks for the info, I just googled that and that is exactly the concept I was alluding to. Though I think I’d take it a step further and suggest the emotional tempertantrums of the majority are just as dangerous, and an appointed Senate would limit that.
    And I can appreciate your point about Legislatures (like Arizona) fucking up. Those Republicans really do seem intent on looking like racists don’t they? :(

  6. James McPherson said

    They do, indeed. The best thing Democrats have going for them is Republicans. Of course, the converse also is true.
    Besides looking like racists, Arizona’s conservatives also look fiscally inept. Even aside from the added costs of boycotts, etc., the law would cost Arizona more than the state would gain. Take it from Fox Business–which can’t be considered anything other than conservative in any sense of the word: http://www.foxbusiness.com/story/markets/economy/illegal-immigration-provides-benefits-states-despite-rhetoric/
    It may have been worse when I lived there, as Evan Mecham was governor at the time. At least they had the sense to impeach him. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/22/AR2008022202925.html

  7. V.E.G. said

    David Graham Phillips died very unexpectedly 100 years ago. Two David Christopher Grahams have bad connotations: One of them is a perpetrator and other has a disability (cannot speak or hear). People with Graham should think twice before naming their son David. Seems 20th century are bad news for guys named David Graham!

  8. [...] though I’ve made fun of Tea Party folks a time or two or three, I’ve also supported their efforts — while pointing out that the “party” is [...]

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