Skip

"The Senate is an unknowing world."
October 13, 2012 7:03 PM   Subscribe

Tired of the Presidential race? The battle for 33 Class I seats in the 100-member United States Senate, once commonly known as the "World's Greatest Deliberative Body", now known for stifling torpor with record-breaking numbers of filibusters and a total logjam of pending confirmations, is also taking place on the same day. With many key Senate races happening in states where the Presidential outcome will be lopsided, all eyes are on split-ticket voters. 53 Democrats (2 of them independents) and 47 Republicans make up the current chamber. Who will control the second Senate ivory gavel, the first of which was shattered in 1954?

Of those 33 seats, Democrats are defending 22, many of them freshmen from the historic 2006 Democratic wave election and open seats. Earlier in the year, the Democrats faced down this numerical disadvantage with their backs against the wall, but are nearing Election Day with the wind to their backs.

On the Democratic offense, hoping to knock out Republican seats, will progressive hero and MeFi favorite Elizabeth Warren (previously 1, 2, 3, 4) take back Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts? Independent Angus King of Maine leads both the Democrat and Republican, and is believed to be more friendly to Democrats, putting the national party in the awkward position of hoping for his victory while abandoning their own candidate, State Senator Cynthia Dill. Democrats are also pouring funds into a late-breaking surge in Arizona, and are chasing down Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada. Pugnacious Tea Party Republican Richard Mourdock slayed incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in a primary, giving Democrat Rep. Joe Donnelly a fighting chance.

For the Republican offense, trying to pick off Democratic seats, they start up 1 seat with a widely expected pickup in Kansas after Democratic Senator Ben Nelson retired (previously posted Steve Martin endorsement notwithstanding). In other Democratic open seats, Republicans are locked in a tight battle to prevent the first openly LGBT Senator, Tammy Baldwin, from winning in Wisconsin, are trying to bring back former Sen. George "Macaca" Allen in Virginia (previously: 1, 2, 3), and have brought wrestling magnate Linda McMahon back for another attempt in Connecticut. A previously easy open seat pickup in North Dakota has turned into a dogfight. Hopes of easy pickups in Missouri faded somewhat when Rep. Todd Akin imploded over controversial rape comments (previously), but other top targeted incumbents include flat-haired Sen. Jon Tester of Montana; and Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who faces Rep. Cornelius Harvey McGillicuddy IV, the (lesser?) scion of former Sen. Connie Mack III and baseball legend Connie Mack.

There are still weeks to go. In the last 40 years, every Senate election cycle has seen at least one shocking upset. Early voting is already underway. It's going to be a wild ride. Who will live and who will die?
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College (71 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was at a fundraiser event in Missoula recently, a Pearl Jam concert brought into being due to Jeff Ament coming from the same hometown as Tester. Hard to say, based on that event, how Montana will go, as much of the crowd was from out-of-state. But there were plenty of voter registration efforts going on with the crowds outside the event. And the band spoke from the stage about needing to support Tester to retain the Senate, a message which the crowd largely appreciated (Pearl Jam having long been progressive in leaning and having attracted like-minded people for an audience).

I'm really eager for this election cycle to be over, as I've been sick of it for more than a couple of weeks now. But at the same time, I'm extremely curious as to how it will all end up. Living in interesting times, indeed.
posted by hippybear at 7:10 PM on October 13, 2012


Great post. Thanks, HUMC.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:18 PM on October 13, 2012


The retiring Ben Nelson is from Nebraska, not Kansas.
posted by plastic_animals at 7:19 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hope I live long enough to see the Senate abolished.
posted by gerryblog at 7:27 PM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I hope I live long enough to see the Senate abolished."

Care to share your reasoning?
posted by bz at 7:29 PM on October 13, 2012


I can't fathom how actual Independents even exist anymore, with the Democrats occupying the middle.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:31 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Care to share your reasoning?

I, for one, feel like the Senate has done nothing about the Trade Federation's blockade.
posted by graventy at 7:33 PM on October 13, 2012 [25 favorites]


I've talked about it on the site before, but the Senate is a wildly disproportionate body, even putting aside the filibuster that ruined any chance of Obama getting anything good done. If the Senate were apportioned according to population New York and California would have 20% of the Senators just by themselves; maybe we wouldn't be at universal health care, but we'd be so much closer...
posted by gerryblog at 7:36 PM on October 13, 2012




538 roundup on the Senate elections: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/13/g-o-p-senate-hopes-fade-even-as-romneys-rise-polls-show/

While I might applaud the irony of Romney getting elected POTUS while Congress flops away from GOP control, I already know that the Dems wouldn't have the backbone or discipline to act with him the way Reps have acted with Obama in the White House. I'd love to see the tables turned, but in this case, the tables wouldn't turn and too much of the backwards agenda would end up becoming law.
posted by hippybear at 7:47 PM on October 13, 2012


While I might applaud the irony of Romney getting elected POTUS

Still not seeing it given the Ohio polls.
posted by jaduncan at 7:48 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good evening from Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Y'know, I am sure that if you decided it was time for the Western Colonies to come "back into the fold", then we would put that unfortunate business in 1776 down to a bit of a misunderstanding and welcome you back. Less politicking and elected chambers for you folks to get all shouty about. Less spending on elections (it's measured in the millions here). More civilized political chit-chat. And cricket returning as your true national sport.

Additional side benefits for you: decent beer, fish and chips, and a renewed acquisition of that most vital skill of all.

So it's a win all round. We await your call. Oh, and we also have the ideal First Governor of America to return back to you guys (he was born in New York City) and take over from your current presidency.

Toodle pip,
Mommy country misses you.
posted by Wordshore at 7:57 PM on October 13, 2012 [20 favorites]


decent beer

Must...not... derail... thread...
posted by IjonTichy at 8:04 PM on October 13, 2012 [18 favorites]


If you are a progressive and/or a science lover and/or a feminist, and you pay attention to only one Senate race in the country, please, please, please pay attention to the Missouri race between Claire McCaskill and Todd Akin.

You'd THINK Akin had ruined his chances beyond any hope of repair with his ridiculous public statement that women who are victims of "legitimate rape" are capable of magically stopping evil rapist sperm with their enchanted lady parts.

You would, in fact, be wrong.

He was publicly abandoned by the national GOP immediately after the comments went viral, but many party leaders and conservative corporate kingmakers have quietly returned to his side [NYT link]. Akin is definitely trailing in the latest polls, but only by a few points.

There are still weeks before the election and, depending on voter turnout and corporate ad spending, as a Missouri native, I genuinely believe there is a distinct possibility that a man who believes that student loans for college should be abolished, thinks employers should be allowed to pay women less for the same work as men, says evolution is not science, and who not only made the aforementioned incredibly stupid and offensive comment about rape but also, along with his friend Rep. Paul Ryan, actually tried to change the legal definition of rape in order to restrict access to abortion just last year, could be promoted from Representative Akin to Senator Akin.

If you want the most bang for your "keep the crazies out of Congress" buck, send your money to Claire McCaskill.
posted by BlueJae at 8:05 PM on October 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


I've talked about it on the site before, but the Senate is a wildly disproportionate body, even putting aside the filibuster that ruined any chance of Obama getting anything good done. If the Senate were apportioned according to population New York and California would have 20% of the Senators just by themselves; maybe we wouldn't be at universal health care, but we'd be so much closer...

Perhaps it would simply make more sense if the senate had shorter terms, and the proportionally-apportioned House of Representatives had the longer terms, and were thus able to spend their terms working on making progress on things and not on campaigning for the next go-round.

But, certainly having a population-apportioned House isn't solving the problem you would like to solve by having the Senate work that way. Having both houses work that way defeats the purpose of having a bicameral legislature, no?
posted by padraigin at 8:07 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good evening from the Fifty States of America, Fuck Yeah, and its District of Columbia, Commonwealths, Insular Areas, and Unincorporated Territories.

The British House of Commons has about 96,000 residents per MP, while the average member of Congress represents about 723,000. We have state legislature districts that are larger than the typical UK constituency, so many that we don't bother giving them cute nicknames in most places. You would be warned that American representation in a merged legislature would absolutely overrun that of the former UK. Your elections will get more expensive to compensate.

So we aren't really sure you want to do that to your legislature. It is inadvisable to adjust this representation formula to prevent that from happening, since that was the cause of the dust-up in the first place.

Maybe if you're really, really sure. But we will not add in any superfluous u's.

Bless y'all,
America
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 8:12 PM on October 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'd remind the person who wants to abolish the Senate that the proportionally-allocated House has passed a number of things that would never clear the Senate, including the repeal of Obamacare. Let's not pretend proportional allocation is a panacea. I live in Texas and I promise you don't want more of our crazy.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:12 PM on October 13, 2012 [13 favorites]


Well, the House and the Senate were both created long before modern society was born, and thus have a lot of legacy problems. The House is no longer truly proportional, as it should have continued to grow in size as the population grew, but that was stopped. The Senate was originally made up of people selected by State legislatures, but that was moved to popular vote a while back. And the whole "election day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November" thing is a legacy of times gone by when our country was largely agrarian and people couldn't vote until after the harvest and were busy on Sundays.

The Constitution is a great document, but is far from perfect. There's a lot of changes I'd make to our governmental system if given the chance. Proportional representation rather than winner-take-all, for starters. Not to mention taking the power of the purse away from Congress and giving it to the people to determine in broad categories, allowing Congressional oversight within the publicly determined proportions.

Switching the Rep and Sen terms is one I hadn't thought of before, but it makes sense to me. Let's also set the number of Reps to a fixed number of people, rather than a fixed total number. Then it will all make a lot more sense to me.
posted by hippybear at 8:17 PM on October 13, 2012


decent beer

Must...not... derail... thread...


Newcastle Brown Ale, Bass Ale, and Guiness (not) Ale are all pretty decent beers. There are other examples.

Most large American beers == sex in a canoe.

You know - Fucking close to water.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:17 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've talked about it on the site before, but the Senate is a wildly disproportionate body...

Yeah, this. It pisses me off that a citizen of a tiny state like North Dakota has far more relative representation in congress than I do has a citizen of big state like Pennsylvania. ND has 680,000 people, smaller than the county I live in, and yet it gets the same representation in the Senate as California that has 50X its population.
posted by octothorpe at 8:18 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's actually part of the genius of the design of Congress. There's supposed to be proportional representation in the House, to give weight to the people on a per-capita basis, and then to balance that there's equal representation of every state in the Senate, to make sure the majority-populated states don't exercise tyranny over the smaller states. It's a system which was well designed and works pretty well overall. The number of times the Federal government, through action of Congress, has been able to enact laws which greatly favor the population bases over the states without a lot of voters is fairly small. And that's how it should be.
posted by hippybear at 8:28 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


hippybear, I know why the configuration was enacted, I just think that it's long past its usefulness. It may have been genius in 1789 when the states weren't too sure about the whole "united" concept but we're all the same people now and deserve the same representation.
posted by octothorpe at 8:47 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


We all have the same representation. Both in the House, which is represented proportionally, and the Senate, where every state has equal voice.

Do you really mean to suggest that California and New York should be able to determine what is important in Kansas and Idaho, and should be able to do so with impunity against the will and representation of the populace there? Because that's what you seem to be saying.
posted by hippybear at 8:52 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


but we're all the same people now and deserve the same representation

That is some adorable optimism about your fellow Americans. I assure you it's misguided.
posted by padraigin at 8:53 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you really mean to suggest that California and New York should be able to determine what is important in Kansas and Idaho, and should be able to do so with impunity against the will and representation of the populace there? Because that's what you seem to be saying.

Things which are only of interest to Kansas or Idaho will be addressed by their respective state governments. Things of interest to the entirety of the United States should be handled by entities which represent the totality of human beings in the United States.
posted by dhens at 8:55 PM on October 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Things which are only of interest to Kansas or Idaho will be addressed by their respective state governments. Things handled of of interest to the entirety of the United States should be handled by entities which represent the totality of human beings in the United States.

And how exactly should that body representing the totality of human beings in the United States be composed? Should people a thousand miles away have their representatives be able to run roughshod over issues which mean a lot to smaller populations in the name of federalism? Or are you advocating for much stronger states rights issues, with a greatly reduced role of federal law?

In any case, I'm not sure what issues are at stake when people have this kind of discussion. What kind of things which smaller states are currently blocking should be allowed to move ahead by reforming the system? What sorts of things should California and New York be able to say, from a Federal level, must be imposed on smaller population states that currently are not possible?

The design of Congress has long been thus: the House is hot-headed and volatile, and the Senate is slow-moving and deliberative. That the Senate has been blocked by stupid rules recently such as cloture only makes it more so.

Do I wish Congress were allowing more to be accomplished? Of course I do. But based on what the proportional House has passed in the past two years since the Tea Party started rising, I'm glad the Senate has kept things closed down a lot. I much prefer inaction to bad action, even if the result of inaction is also bad.
posted by hippybear at 9:04 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you really mean to suggest that California and New York should be able to determine what is important in Kansas and Idaho, and should be able to do so with impunity against the will and representation of the populace there? Because that's what you seem to be saying.

But right now, a citizen of Alaska has more say about the federal laws that affect my life than I do. A lot more say. How can you defend such an anti-democratic structure?
posted by octothorpe at 9:04 PM on October 13, 2012


Do you really mean to suggest that California and New York should be able to determine what is important in Kansas and Idaho, and should be able to do so with impunity against the will and representation of the populace there?

Contrawise: Do you really mean to suggest that Kansas and Idaho should be able to determine national issues that are important in California and New York with impunity against the will and representation of the [much larger] populace there?

Argument by implied assertion isn't that great.
posted by jaduncan at 9:06 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


But right now, a citizen of Alaska has more say about the federal laws that affect my life than I do. A lot more say. How can you defend such an anti-democratic structure?

How many laws passed or pending legislation denied can you cite which Alaska specifically has prevented or enacted that has affected your life?
posted by hippybear at 9:06 PM on October 13, 2012


Is this where I can remind everybody that there are at least 618,000 Americans who have absolutely no representation whatsoever in the federal legislature?

In fact, one unnamed political party specifically mentioned its desire to continue this disenfranchisement in its platform this year.

There's a lot of talk about what's "American" or "Unamerican," although I think that most would agree that the one fundamental thing that we all do as Americans is to vote. One of the parties seems very intent on taking this right away from a great many Americans (and guaranteeing that some might never get it).

Fuck that noise.
posted by schmod at 9:07 PM on October 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


In fact, one unnamed political party specifically mentioned its desire to continue this disenfranchisement in its platform this year.

But I bet I can guess!
posted by jaduncan at 9:08 PM on October 13, 2012


Contrawise: Do you really mean to suggest that Kansas and Idaho should be able to determine national issues that are important in California and New York with impunity against the will and representation of the populace there?

Argument by assertion isn't that great.


Right, but if the point of the design of Congress is to keep the tyranny of the majority from acting upon the minority, then this argument is moot. If that is the base assumption, then having Kansas and Idaho keeping California and New York from having their way is built into the system, and is a feature, not a bug.

If you believe that the majority should always win, then do you support Chris Christie's assertion that Jim Crow states should have been given the chance to put to popular vote in referenda the civil rights legislation in the 60s?
posted by hippybear at 9:14 PM on October 13, 2012


Well, I am not a big fan of "states' rights." I see states like corporations -- legal fictions which are useful for certain purposes but which are not capable of thinking of feeling. So, if there were theoretically some legislation which made every individual in Cali and NY happy but made every individual in Kansas and Idaho sad, well, too bad. There are more flesh-and-blood human beings who support rather than oppose that measure. Now, obviously, there would be exceptions for matters of basic rights (a simple majority could not take away civil rights from a group of people, for example).

How many laws passed or pending legislation denied can you cite which Alaska specifically has prevented or enacted that has affected your life?
I am arguing on more idealistic than pragmatic grounds.

The federal government should be legislating on the behalf of all of the flesh-and-blood feeling and thinking beings for which it is responsible. If that means, for example, imposing environmental restrictions in places where the locals may not like it, tough cookies. They can make their own country -- they'll remember how well that worked in 1861-1865.

there are at least 618,000 Americans who have absolutely no representation whatsoever in the federal legislature


more than that:
Puerto Rico (3,706,690)
US Virgin Islands (109,750)
Northern Mariana Islands (77,000)
Guam (159,358)
(I don't include American Samoa, where the inhabitants have a special status.)
posted by dhens at 9:21 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Right, but if the point of the design of Congress is to keep the tyranny of the majority from acting upon the minority, then this argument is moot.

There is a difference between denying overrepresentation based on arbirtrary geographic boundaries, on the one hand, and keeping African-Americans from voting, people with unpopular opinions from voicing them, etc., on the other.
posted by dhens at 9:23 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I liked the beer derail better, and would like to point out that the bar one block from my house has a (totally unremarkable) selection of half a dozen beers on tap, all of which are made in the USA and all of which are better than Newcastle, Bass, or Guinness. My local grocery store has a (again, totally unremarkable) selection of perhaps a hundred different types of beer, at least half of which are really quite excellent.

Most people drink shitty beer in the US, but we also have unparallelled access to hundreds if not thousands of really amazing, high-quality, and often very creative brews. The USA is a great country for beer drinkers, I will say that about it.
posted by Scientist at 9:23 PM on October 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


Things of interest to the entirety of the United States should be handled by entities which represent the totality of human beings in the United States.

It's worth pointing out that the federal government as designed was supposed to account for the governing of two different entities - the individual people and the individual states.

So, two different legislatures operating under different rules responsible for different parts of the function of government.

And after all, it's the United States of America and not the United People of America.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:24 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


it's the United States of America and not the United People of America

Yes, I realize that, and I realize that it will likely never change. I would personally be in favor of eliminating states as anachronisms altogether, but that will never happen.
posted by dhens at 9:26 PM on October 13, 2012


Oh, and the senate's not supposed to be proportional. That's a feature, not a bug.

A while ago, a bunch of very smart people decided that proportional rule was a decent idea in theory, but completely unworkable in practice. I think that we have a decent pile of evidence to suggest that this notion still holds true today. (The referendum/initiative system needs to die in a fire, but I digress...)

In effect, we have a semi-proportional system: The Senate was always meant to be a cool-headed version of the house, where the leaders were more qualified, and were somewhat distanced from their states and constituents by the very long term lengths. They're the guys who are supposed to be worrying about the big picture, without getting bogged down by the minutiae of the government's day-to-day operations. Although the 111th and 112th Congresses were woefully unproductive, it is worth noting that the Senate and President were able to prevent the House's Tea Party influx from doing any permanent damage. The constitution specifically structures our legislature to be protected from political "fads," and it seems to have done that job quite well.

Checks and Balances work, and the two legislative bodies are very different by design. There might be some things that are wrong with the system, but the constitution's stance on checks & balances and separation of powers should almost definitely not be allowed to change.

In exchange, we as citizens, have a right to pay attention to Senate races -- definitely moreso than House races -- and need make sure that we elect the most qualified people possible to that office. Due to its structure, the Senate isn't a great place to elect a politician based off of a grudge, single issue, local interest, or even political party.

Lately, we've been neglecting those duties. The 6-year Senate elections are often afterthoughts on local ballots. Maybe it's because of the drift toward national news coverage, the growing mythology of presidential powers, or just generic voter apathy/uneducation, but we've been profoundly failing our duties when it comes to electing good legislators at almost every level of the government.

If we as a people can't elect a legislative body with more than a 10% approval rating, it's our own damn fault*.

*Also, maybe we need to realign our expectations for what the role of the government should be. If I had a nickel for every time somebody parroted "Personal Responsibility" while simultaneously blaming the government for their current state of affairs.... If you believe in limited government, you should be ecstatic about the lack of governing that the 112th Congress has done.
posted by schmod at 9:30 PM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Right, but if the point of the design of Congress is to keep the tyranny of the majority from acting upon the minority, then this argument is moot. If that is the base assumption, then having Kansas and Idaho keeping California and New York from having their way is built into the system, and is a feature, not a bug.

I was more saying the argument should be explicit, but...if I'm absolutely honest my opinion is that the US is not exactly progressive in several areas (health care, social provision, public transport) compared to the rest of the Western world and it's hard not to conclude that a lot of that is the overempowerment of more conservative and less informed rural areas. That is indeed arguably a feature, but it's also true that as urbanisation increases the disparity increases; it's a lot more inequitable than it once was. I'm also not sure that Rhode Island should really have the same say as NY or CA.

If you believe that the majority should always win, then do you support Chris Christie's assertion that Jim Crow states should have been given the chance to put to popular vote in referenda the civil rights legislation in the 60s?

To some extent, although this seems an odd conflation. There's a perfectly good constitutional argument against segregation/Jim Crow, and there's a method of making a constitutional amendment. As the constitution they signed up for states that they are subject to the Supreme Court it's hard to ignore cases like Brown v. Board of Education and the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection arguments. Those don't apply less outside education, so if they wanted an amendment to allow it they should have to persuade the required number of states. This is the difference between normal legislative and constitutional changes.
posted by jaduncan at 9:30 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


And after all, it's the United States of America and not the United People of America.

The concept of a voluntary union of states was somewhat altered when the Civil War made clear they can't choose to leave, no? The ideals of the declaration of independence are also not exactly saying that one form of government must constantly prevail; I recall some degree of encouragement of the concept that the people can reform governments until they have one they are happy with.

I therefore don't think that the people should have any problem changing the constitution and Congress to majority rule if they wish.
posted by jaduncan at 9:39 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most people drink shitty beer in the US, but we also have unparallelled access to hundreds if not thousands of really amazing, high-quality, and often very creative brews. The USA is a great country for beer drinkers, I will say that about it.

Yeah. I spent last night at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. There were something like 2500 beers available to sample; I must have tried about a hundred. I think maybe 10 of those weren't really to my liking at all, and of those maybe 5 were just outright bad.
posted by brennen at 9:40 PM on October 13, 2012


In practical terms, if we are going to go to the considerable effort to reform and modernize any aspect of elections to national office, I'd really rather start with the Electoral College.
posted by brennen at 9:44 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Supposedly the prediction markets are better than polls. "The Democrats to control the Senate after 2012 Congressional Elections 62.2% CHANCE" - intrade.com
posted by saber_taylor at 9:45 PM on October 13, 2012


if I'm absolutely honest my opinion is that the US is not exactly progressive in several areas (health care, social provision, public transport) compared to the rest of the Western world and it's hard not to conclude that a lot of that is the overempowerment of more conservative and less informed rural areas.

Most of the Western world has representational parliaments, not winner-take-all representative congresscritters. The idea that if 5% of the populace thinks a certain way means they get 5% of the voice in the national government is something which is completely impossible here in the US. I'd welcome a better electoral system than the one we have, because then we'd finally have an end to the whole "I'm throwing my vote away if I vote for anyone other than a D or an R" discussion, and everyone who votes for an L or an I or a G or any other party might finally actually end up with even a small voice on the national stage. As things stand now, unless you are part of a majority, you have no representation at all. So you either find which potential majority you can stomach voting for, or you vote for one of the Certain Not To Win parties and thus subtract your vote from the potential majority you might find closest to (but not congruent with) your true interests and thus basically add a vote to the opposing party.

It's a shit system, and if you're going to complain about anything, complaining about that makes a lot more sense than complaining about how Alaska's two Senate seats might keep something from passing to the POTUS's desk.
posted by hippybear at 9:46 PM on October 13, 2012


The concept of a voluntary union of states was somewhat altered when the Civil War made clear they can't choose to leave, no?

They never could choose to leave. The United States was founded by the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union (emphasis added). In Texas v. White (1869) the Supreme Court ruled that:
By these, the Union was solemnly declared to "be perpetual." And when these Articles were found to be inadequate to the exigencies of the country, the Constitution was ordained "to form a more perfect Union." It is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words. What can be indissoluble if a perpetual Union, made more perfect, is not?
Furthermore:
The act which consummated [Texas'] admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final. The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:49 PM on October 13, 2012


except through revolution

Derail, feel free to ignore:

There's one thing I never got though; theoretically the People can also dissolve their government by persuasion rather than mere violence. If the people of a state choose to dissolve that government and reform a new government they can presumably choose not to have the new government be part of the US, since the right to choose methods of government is a self-evident right that justifies the foundation of the US itself (and indeed is arguably protected by international law on the self-determination of peoples; an Indian reservation or native land could almost certainly make this further argument as it's an explicit homeland for a recognised people and culture). Given that, what prevents a choice to withdraw based on a referendum of the people of that state to dissolve and then reform state government?
posted by jaduncan at 9:58 PM on October 13, 2012


hippybear: " I'd welcome a better electoral system than the one we have, because then we'd finally have an end to the whole "I'm throwing my vote away if I vote for anyone other than a D or an R" discussion, and everyone who votes for an L or an I or a G or any other party might finally actually end up with even a small voice on the national stage."

Yes, the current system is shitty for third parties in presidential elections.

However, if you want to introduce a third major party, the presidency is not the place to do it. Really, that's a rather insane proposition when you think about it. How would a third-party president ever manage to enact any of his or her platform? You need the support of the legislature to do that.

If you want to get third parties into power, you need to start voting them onto your city council, then to the mayor's office, then to the state legislature, and so on and so forth. Starting at the top just isn't going to work. Ever.

The House actually already does the job that you seem to want it to. Granted, the geographic district separation might not be ideal for your tastes, but a fairly small number of people can indeed get a legislator elected. Even in the Senate, we've already got two independents – a number that will likely hold after the next election (Joe Lieberman will retire, and Angus King will probably win in Maine). Angus King's a pretty interesting example, because he's a bona-fide independent.

Also, your comparison to international parliaments isn't exactly the most apt -- in those political systems, politicians of a given party tend to vote as a bloc. That's almost never been the case in American politics. (Yes, this might be the case for a small number of issues, but national party platforms are more like guidelines than they are doctrine in America)
posted by schmod at 10:00 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


A while ago, a bunch of very smart people decided that proportional rule was a decent idea in theory, but completely unworkable in practice. I think that we have a decent pile of evidence to suggest that this notion still holds true today. (The referendum/initiative system needs to die in a fire, but I digress...)

If you're referring to the summer of 1787, when the constitution was drafted, this was not at all what they decided. It's really sad nobody remembers middle school social studies lessons. And of course, many different issues are being conflated here.

The Senate's non-proportional design was a result of a cynical compromise. It was a bone thrown to small states to get them to come along. The Senate was deemed to represent the states as sovereigns (not the citizens of said states) and thus gave states parity with each other. This is obviously and inherently antidemocratic, but it was the only way to get all thirteen colonies on board. It was not an affirmative dismissal of proportional representation. That's what the House's design was going for, after all (and proportional representation was a a novel enough experiment that it really couldn't be affirmatively dismissed, anyway).

As all realists can acknowledge, we've evolved long past the idea of states-as-sovereigns, to a place where they're more like administrative districts with a certain leeway for experimentation. Nor is there any likelihood these days that a small state could successfully split off due to any diminished political standing. This means there's no longer even the old, poor excuses for such disproportionate representation.

As for the Senate being more deliberative, its disproportionate nature was never a cause of this. The fact that Senators represent larger groups of voters (than Representatives) means they're more likely to be moderate, which points in the direction of a deliberative body. But so do the longer, staggered terms, as well as the Senate's particular procedures. If one likes this status quo bias, one could still design a unicameral system closer to the House of Representatives in proportionality, but incorporating longer, staggered terms and supermajority requirements.
posted by aswego at 10:07 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Given that, what prevents a choice to withdraw based on a referendum of the people of that state to dissolve and then reform state government?

Eh, does it really matter? The world's most powerful military is probably the most important reason. There is not a legal theory that will matter more than artillery when it comes to secession.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:10 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


While I might applaud the irony of Romney getting elected POTUS while Congress flops away from GOP control

Currently the Republicans control the House of Representatives and the Democrats control the Senate.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:15 PM on October 13, 2012


Meanwhile up here in Washington, the Senate race has been over for months with Cantwell holding a 20+ point lead on her GOP challenger. The Democratic governor candidate (a pretty miserable one) is leading the GOP's best hope at winning the office in years by a margin just outside of the margin of error. The state house and senate look to remain in Democratic control, possibly with the Dems widening their margin. And oh, the gay marriage and pot legalization initiatives look like they'll pass.

In other words, the state of Washington is working on its Dear John letter to America. The days of Cascadia are nigh.
posted by dw at 10:54 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm also not sure that Rhode Island should really have the same say as NY or CA.

This is an odd choice of example, since I believe that RI's blueness makes it more similar in national political terms to both those states than, say, Wyoming.

At any rate, the vagaries of math mean that the most disproportionality is enjoyed by the smallest states, but on the other hand there aren't all that many of them and it's unclear how much this actually changes outcomes. Clearly, as my prior point illuminates, there are fewer differences between large and small states in today's politics than the Founding Fathers imagined, whereas there can be wild political differences among both large states (NY, CA, but TX) and small (AK, WY, but RI). My conclusion is that this disproportionality, despite being a fundamental weakening of the one-man-one-vote principle, doesn't necessarily mean that much in practical terms -- even in the Electoral College.

I've said for a while that the far more damaging issue in Presidential elections may in fact be the early-seeded primaries and caucuses, which come from states that tend more conservative than the median -- e.g. NH and IA. It isn't even necessarily the elections themselves, but the months of "retail politics" that candidates and campaigns engage in, in these unrepresentative states. Since the dates of these primaries are set by state law, it isn't actually a federally-fixable issue -- you'd need a compact between states. Ideally, I'd like to see the privilege of having every half-viable candidate wandering around a state be something that rotates, with groups of (say) five states having their elections at the same time, to be supplanted in the next cycle by the next group of five. Yeah, never gonna happen, I know.

I've also developed something of a skepticism about the popular election of Senators. I wonder if we lost something useful when they acted something like the ambassadors of the various states, more like the UN Assembly. Is it possible this could result in a more collaborative approach to governance? Probably a long shot, I know, but I feel that the popular election approach has resulted in media-driven candidates, many of them super-rich, who are actually less beholden to their parties than in the past.

I do want to keep the Senate, though, as I think there are distinct advantages to having an upper and lower legislature.
posted by dhartung at 11:28 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do want to keep the Senate, though, as I think there are distinct advantages to having an upper and lower legislature.

I'm curious what these may be, if you're interested in sharing....
posted by aswego at 11:33 PM on October 13, 2012


This is an odd choice of example, since I believe that RI's blueness makes it more similar in national political terms to both those states than, say, Wyoming.

Disproportionate power isn't better because it's on one side or the other.
posted by jaduncan at 12:11 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


And how exactly should that body representing the totality of human beings in the United States be composed?

Direct representation rather than a distric system where geographical proximity is seen as more important than the actual issues that unite people. In the American system, being a Taxan or Californian or whatever is seen as being more important than being gay or Christian or green or whatever, which means that quite a lot of people will never or only rarely be represented in the senate as there aren't enough of them to influence any senatorial race in a given state, even if there would be enough of them nation wide to elect a senator if they'd been able to vote directly.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:23 AM on October 14, 2012


"Once" is the operative term here. Perhaps "deliberative" is too. Does that even happen anymore there?
posted by caddis at 4:18 AM on October 14, 2012


Akin winning would be a massive setback for women's rights. I'm stymied by the large amounts of women who are voting for him though.
posted by Renoroc at 5:32 AM on October 14, 2012


Currently the Republicans control the House of Representatives and the Democrats control the Senate.

Based on what we've seen this past session through invocation of the cloture rule, I think it's pretty clear the Republicans control the Senate, too.
posted by hippybear at 7:35 AM on October 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd like to see a system of proportional representation based on the number of good beers that come from each state.
posted by box at 11:08 AM on October 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Feel free to adopt the British system. Works well for us. Even get third parties sometimes in government! Let's face it, the whole President thing is a sop to Washington that's been a millstone round your neck...
posted by alasdair at 1:45 PM on October 14, 2012


so if we were in a country where we thought of ourselves as citizens of a state first and of a national federation second, the stuff y'all are saying about the senate's role as representing states rather than people would make sense. But it's been a long, long, long long time since people have primarily thought of themselves as Virginians or New Yorkers or whatever, instead of as Americans. As such, it's pretty ludicrous that individual citizens of Wyoming get so much more say over the composition of the Senate than do individual citizens of California.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:42 PM on October 14, 2012


But it's been a long, long, long long time since people have primarily thought of themselves as Virginians or New Yorkers or whatever, instead of as Americans.

I don't know where you live, but I think you'll find that identification with the state in which one lives is at least on par with one's status as US citizen in the minds of many many people in a wide variety of states. In some places, Texas for example, it's probably more. I've met a lot of people who don't even live in their home state anymore and still identify as being from where ever that may be.
posted by hippybear at 8:58 PM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


aswego: "It's really sad nobody remembers middle school social studies lessons. And of course, many different issues are being conflated here. "

Yeah. I did conflate a few issues in there.

While the "disproportional" design of the senate was indeed the result of a cynical compromise, the structure of the Senate was still very much deliberately designed to prevent a "tyranny of the majority" kind of rule. Initially, that was done by preventing direct election of the Senators, while the same thing is more or less accomplished today via the Senate's very long term lengths.

Even today, the Senate still does seem to veer away from making outspoken or controversial decisions. A successful Representative needs to make a lot of noise, while a successful Senator needs to keep his or her head down. It's an odd contrast, but I think that these things were very much by design. As the "saner" of the two chambers, it mattered less where the individual Senators were from, and helped to give all of the different (geographically-linked) cultures in the US a seat at the table.

This helps to ensure that the legislature takes the care to write laws that accomodate and please the entire nation, rather than just aiming for a simple majority from a handful of states.

Also, don't forget that the American federal government was originally envisioned as both a coalition of the states, as well as a coalition of the people who lived in those states. You can argue about how relevant this is today, but I think that the design of the legislature does make some sense from this perspective.
posted by schmod at 9:09 PM on October 14, 2012


The Fate of the Senate Is on This Man -
Jon Tester may be facing the most bitter and portentous senate campaign of the year, but first things first: He's got to get the wheat in.

Also, unless something significant has changed since I last checked, Guinness isn't made in the UK.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:34 PM on October 14, 2012




I have no doubt that the tea party mentality will indeed end up winning enough elections to be able to enact its agenda eventually. Probably within the next couple of decades.

I also have no doubt that the end result of that will be that after a generation of living under that scheme, the pendulum will swing wildly to the opposite extreme, as US citizens see the countries which have social safety nets, effective education, regulations which preserve air and water as protected commonwealth, medicines which aren't killing people due to lack of oversight, and populations which aren't starving and sick and homeless despite working two jobs, as they see those countries prospering and surpassing them on the world stage.

That is, if the end result isn't actually some form of rioting and revolution by the underclass. That could also happen.
posted by hippybear at 5:28 PM on October 15, 2012


I'd like to see a system of proportional representation based on the number of good beers that come from each state.

As a resident of both Colorado and Boulder County, allow me to suggest that this be refined down to districts supplying said beer.
posted by brennen at 8:32 PM on October 15, 2012


Esquire: All The Marbles: The 2012 Senate Races
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:34 PM on October 16, 2012




The Negative Guys
You might think an über-liberal like Democratic senator Sherrod Brown would be losing big time in moderate Ohio this year, but he isn’t.

As the race between Brown and Republican state treasurer Josh Mandel enters its final days, the polls all show Brown at least slightly ahead. The problem, says political consultant Fritz Wenzel, is that “Ohioans don’t know just how liberal Sherrod Brown really is, and they don’t really know Josh.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:35 PM on October 26, 2012




« Older MetaFilter: Hallucinations of dark and scary...   |   The Secret Lives of Raccoons Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post