by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In a provocative Sunday opinion piece for the New York Times, Jamelle Bouie takes aim at the United States Senate. It is “is highly undemocratic and strikingly unrepresentative” institution, dominated by a “Republican coalition of rural whites, exurban whites and anti-tax suburbanites.” This needs to be changed — because everybody knows it is un-American to oppose higher taxes!
Bouie offers an outside-the-box idea. Rather than change the Senate via constitutional amendment, progressives should look to increase the number of Democrats in the Senate by giving representation in the Senate to non-state units—“Washington, D.C., the Atlantic territories, the Pacific territories and the Native tribes.”
Normally, I do not write columns responding to other columns. But Bouie’s piece is typical of the progressive Left’s frustration with the Senate, as well as of an inability to reckon with its role in our constitutional regime. For these reasons, it merits a thorough examination.
For starters, full disclosure: I get it. The Senate is not democratic, and in a republic, that is problematic. All else being equal, I would agree with Bouie. But all else is not equal. This is in fact a very old debate, whose context demands some thoughtful appreciation before slashing changes are made. Why do you think the Constitutional Convention dragged on through the entire summer of 1787? James Madison, James Wilson, and other federalists from the large states insisted on a fully majoritarian system. But the small-state representatives, including John Dickinson and Roger Sherman, said, No dice — you want our assent to this Constitution, we need guarantees.