Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Contra Feingold and Pro Burris (Kind Of)
Well, Senator Russ Feingold is at it again. When he's not proposing rankly unconstitutional campaign finance law, meritlessly accusing the president and his subordinates of war crimes, and being a general nuisance, he likes to undermine our Republic with bad ideas of the nearly irreversible variety. This time, he wants to remove the gubenatorial power given in many states in case of a US Senate vacancy. It really represents an expansion of the 17th Amendment (the direct election of US Senators) and thus, is a further harm to the people of the United States. Whereas the Senate had been designed as a check on the unstable popular will, ideally filled with people insulated from the immoralities inherent in the need for reelection, the Senate is now not a check on the popular will, but almost a perfect reflection of it. The business at hand in the United States is of the kind where the American people need to be protected from themselves. Who's going to "look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others"? The direct democratic Progressive ideal is here, but all it's left us is in bitterly divided camps of competing interests. Others' interests in this case would be their liberty. If the state legislatures happened to appoint a corrupt US Senator, we the people could immediately have that person recallled, with a short time of focused effort at the state Capitol. If we find that our entire political class is rotten, or at least uninspired, a few years of yanking them back would begin to draw only the best of us. Only the most saintly of us could stand the scrutiny. But isn't that who we want governing us?
I am gratified that Roland Burris now sits in Barack Obama's seat in the US Senate. I have no illusions that he is a saintly man, and his friendship with the disgraced former governor Blogojevich would make even the fairest of us wary. I would also grant that, in my opinion, the US Senate has a near-absolute right to refuse to seat any person, regardless of the electoral circumstances. But it was not Burris's fault that he was appointed by Blogojevich, and until such time as the governor was removed, he retained the right to make the appointment. The fact that Sen. Feingold finds this manner of filling vacancies objectionable--and he gains a certain amount of traction for his ideas due to the corruption of certain office-holders--does not sanctify his terrible idea. The United States has always operated under a certain assuption, not always stated, but nonetheless true, that the preservation of liberty and good order requires the maintenance of certain undemocratic (or at least indirect) features. Rights--either delineated or assumed--cannot be subject to the will of majorities. If we want civic-minded representatives (and not simply state lackeys or parochial slaves) we must eliminate the occasions for our own short-sightedness. We must repeal the 17th Amendment.