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Paul Hayden

The 17th Amendment Was a Very Bad Idea

July 5, 2010

"When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the centre of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated." -- Thomas Jefferson, in 1821

The most anti-American president in the history of the country -- at least until Barack Obama entered the White House -- was Woodrow Wilson. Elected in 1912, Wilson was a racist progressive Democrat who viewed the Founders and the Constitution with disdain. During his first year in office, he promoted two of the most destructive amendments to the U.S. Constitution ever ratified -- the 16th, which gave us the direct federal income tax, and the 17th, which provided for the direct election of U.S. Senators.

The popular election of our senators is bad public policy because it stripped the states of the one voice of representation they had in Washington, DC. James Madison, remembered as the Father of the Constitution, cautioned against "nationalism," wherein a strong national government would rule from Washington. Madison instead favored a new system, to be known as "federalism," which would give co-equal powers to the state and the federal governments. One of the key aspects of maintaining this distinction was the manner in which U.S. Senators were selected.

The House of Representatives, Madison said, would be the direct advocate for the people, and would be elected through their direct vote. U.S. Senators would be selected by their state legislatures, and would represent the interests of the states. By the end of the 19th Century, widespread corruption within state legislatures was rampant. At least that was the excuse used by those who advocated ratification of the 17th Amendment. As if there is no corruption surrounding this issue under the current system. Anyone been watching the trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in Illinois?

Imagine how much more accountable United States Senators would be to the states they allegedly represent if they had to answer to the legislators in that state, rather than to the fickle whim of voters.

Blagojevich is on trial for trying to sell Barack Obama's old Senate seat. If the state legislature had been tasked with finding a replacement, rather than the governor, perhaps the people of Illinois might have someone more competent than Roland Burris.

Perhaps Sen. Ben Nelson would have listened to his constituents' opinion on Obamacare if he had known that the Nebraska Legislature could have replaced him at will.

Do you think that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would have so brazenly disregarded the wishes of Nevada had his fate rested in the hands of the legislature?

How does the fact that Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut raises almost all his campaign money from out of state donors -- a practice that would be neither necessary nor tolerated under the old system -- further the interests of his state?

What are the chances Sen. John Kerry would not be called on the carpet by the Massachusetts Legislature for voting in favor of a federal health care bill that duplicates legislation already in effect at the state level?

Today, Alaska does not have the authority to allow oil drilling in ANWR because of federal interference. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is battling the feds over his state's right to protect its coastal wetlands from BP's oil spill. Jindal has also had to take the Obama administration to court in order to stop the president's moratorium on offshore drilling. The state of Arizona is being sued by the Justice Department for enforcing immigration law. Everywhere we turn, the states are being crushed under the boot heel of an out-of-control federal government.

The United States has repealed only one amendment in the 223 years since the Constitution was ratified. It is time for the 17th Amendment to join the 18th on the ash heap of history.

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Copyright ©2010 Doug Patton

Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at dpatton@cagle.comand/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.