Recently I was watching Doris Kearns Goodwin on “Meet The Press.” If you’re not a history nerd like me you might not know who she is, but she’s a foremost expert in presidential and U.S. history. The show’s panel was discussing the incomprehensible notion that a background check amendment which enjoyed overwhelming — 90% or thereabouts — support would be defeated in the Senate, despite the fact that it had enough votes to pass without the ever-present threat of a Republican filibuster.
Goodwin had a good point about the Senate and one that spoke to history that not many Americans know about. Senators used to be selected by the state legislatures and not directly by the people, and in fact this process was laid out in Article One of the Constitution itself. Senatorial elections were held in this fashion until around the turn of the last century, when it became clear that what ended up happening was extreme polarization and corruption in the Senate much like what you see today. Tired of watching the Senate IGNORE THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE, they changed the rules. They took advantage of our country’s Constitution being malleable and they made Senate seats directly elected positions, going so far as to write an Amendment — the 17th — to supersede the first Article itself. Senators were now more accountable to the people and less to the corrupting influence of money from unscrupulous businessmen.
This is evidence — the 17th Amendment is proof — that we can amend our Constitution even to the point of overriding specific directives given before the Bill of Rights is even laid out. This story is verifiable historical record we can all point to that illustrates what can happen when people in this country get fed up with the status quo and actually put in the effort to make change. It’s no small or easy task to write and ratify a Constitutional Amendment. The Framers specifically set the bar high to make sure that the passing whims of the people not alter the government structure too much, but in the early 20th century Americans had it up their eyeballs with corrupt politicians ignoring them — and they pushed for and got the change they desired.
The time has come for that same kind of shakeup. Something has to change, permanently. Some might suggest term limits, which on the face of it would seem like a good idea — to cull the herd of the stalwart and entrenched senators who have become “career” politicians. However, if you limit the terms a senator can serve, you can also kick a very talented and dedicated legislator out of office prematurely. Term limits in my estimation aren’t the key to change.
The key to change to me is a two-part solution. First, you either drastically change or completely remove the ability to filibuster a bill. Either that, or they can work through a Constitutional amendment to just make it a two-thirds majority vote needed for every issue brought before the Senate. That of course is an absurd notion. The Founders were at least smart enough to see that if you set the threshold too high, nothing will pass. I may not agree with everything the 18th century rich, white, slave-owning Founders said and thought, but in this we are in lock-step agreement. The filibuster needs to be either eliminated, or Senators need to be forced to do it Rand Paul-style, standing and speaking for as many hours as their bodies can withstand. Make them earn it.
Next, we have to be able to recall our senatorial choices with a vote of no confidence. What good is a representative republic if we can’t have more direct control over those who represent us? I support an amendment that would allow for recall elections of any member of the House or Senate should the voters within a given state collect enough signatures on a recall petition to indicate strong support for a recall. If an elected official just isn’t cutting the mustard, so to speak, the people who elected them should be given the opportunity to recall them — plain and simple.
With these reforms in place, then perhaps the pervasive influence of capitalism off its rails — in other words the lobbyists — will start to recede. It’s an uphill climb, but short of the people actually voting the obstinate people out of office, and short of getting in a time machine, going back in time, and forcing the gutless Harry Reid to follow through on his promise to enact real filibuster reform, the system will remain broken. If we can amend the Constitution once already to alter our Congressional election rules, we can do it again, and again until the miserable morons on the Hill get the message.
We will not be intimidated, and we will not be ignored. We are the people. The government is us.