Tuesday, September 13, 2011

PERRY and the 17 th AMENDMENT

Of all the many shoes still to drop on Rick Perry from his book , FED UP !, one of the most serious is reflected in his position on the 17th Amendment. many people may be unfamiliar with the amendment and even more unfamiliar with the circumstances that occasioned its passage.

Rick Perry said " The American people mistakenly empowered the federal government during a fit of populist rage in the early twentieth century by giving it an unlimited source of income ( the 16th amendment, income tax ) and by changing the way Senators are elected." ( the 17th amendment ).

Perry believes the American people made a mistake, in " a fit of rage "and that this amendment needs to be overturned. let's , for a moment, consider why the Amendment was passed in the early 20th century.
Prior to the passage of this amendment, Senators were elected by each state's legislature. This caused an endless series of problems and exposed a deep vein of corruption :
* In 1865, the election/ selection of Senator John Stockton of N. Jersey was contested. Stockton was quoted as saying " The exact method of elections is murky and varies from state to state."
* From 1866 - 1905 there were 9 cases of Senate bribery
* From 1891 - 1905 there were 45 deadlocked election/ selections in 20 states.
* In 1899, Delaware deadlocked and was without either Senator for 2 years
* From 1855 - 1857, Indiana and California had no Senator

The culmination of this corruption and confusion , the point at which voters, in " a fit of populist rage" as Perry put it in his book, was the publication of a series of articles in Cosmopolitan in 1906 entitled : " The Treason of the Senate " in which Senators were depicted as corrupt pawns of industrialists and financiers, a caustic expose of the end result of legislatures " picking" Senators. The articles centered on Senator Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island.
It is illustrative to read a few excerpts from the articles;

" No storm of popular rage, however, could unseat the senators from Rhode Island. A few thousand dollars put in the experienced hands of the heelers, and the senatorial general agents of " the interests" is secure for another six years ". Read industrialists and special interests.

" As a rule, Senator Aldrich no longer concerns himself with Rhode Island's petty local affairs. Not until about a year or so before it comes time for him to be elected again does he become active, says the states political boss, Charles Brayton. He doesn't pay much attention to details . Why should he ? politically. the state is securely the special interests and his. Financially, the " interests" (industrialists, friends, contributors) and he have incorporated and assured "
themselves in perpetuity..."

" Before he reached the Senate, Aldrich had had fifteen years of training in how to legislate the proceeds of the labor of many into the pockets of the few."

" And yet, what has the Senate done....the Senate, with its high-flown pretenses of reverence for the Constitution? It has so legislated and so refrained from legislating that more than half of all the wealth created by the American people belongs to less than one percent of them; that the income of the average American family has sunk to less than six hundred dollars a year; that of our more than twenty-seven million children of school age, less than twelve millions go to school, and more than two millions work in mines, shops and factories.
And the leader, the boss of the Senate for the past twenty years has been.....Senator Aldrich."

" Has Aldrich intellect? Perhaps. But he does not show it. He has never in his twenty-five years of service in the Senate introduced or advocated a measure that shows any conception of the life above what might be expectedof a Hungry Joe ( average ). No, intellect is not a characteristic of Aldrich.....or any of these traitors, or of the men they serve. A scurvy lot they are, are they not, with their smirking and cringing and voluble palaver about God and patriotism and their eager offerings of endowments for hospitals and colleges whenever the American people so much as looks hard in their direction! "
" Aldrich is rich and powerful. Treachery has brought him wealth and rank, if not honor, of a certain sort. He must laugh at us, grown up fools, permitting a handful to bind the might of our eighty millions and to set us all to work for them"

This then is the background to the passage , by 3/4 of the state's , of the 17th amendment. It did not result from Perry's Fit of Popular Rage". It resulted from the national disgust with a system of corruption and graft so endemic in state capitals throughout the nation. One can only muse at Rick Perry's selection of Texas Senators to replace Hutchison and Cornyn. Let's see
* James Leininger ?.....Check
* David Barton ?..........Check
* Perry's Chief of Staff, the state Director of Merck's advocacy group ?......Check
* Phil Adams ?.............Check

Perry wants to take the vote for Senators away from the people and return it to the politicians. He dismisses the real reasons for the amendment discussed above and says the people demanded this change in a momentary fit of rage. He is right. the people were enraged at the abuses of the process by legislatures often controlled by career politicians like Perry. His nostalgia for the 19th century is amusing but masks his unfamiliarity with the 20th century.
Perry is a political disaster in the process of happening


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Anonymous said...

Great history lesson Craig. Repealing the 17th Amendment is a deal killer for me with any politician.


Anonymous said...

Before the 17th Amendment, the state legislature, not the governor, selected senators. If we returned to that system, Rick Perry wouldn't have the choice of new senators from Texas. That choice would belong to the legislature.

The point of having the state legislatures select senators was that the Founding Fathers wanted to remove the Senate from the influence of temporary passions of the voters. The idea was supposed to be that state legislatures would choose senators who would take a long view of most issues rather than doing whatever was popular in the moment. Much of the funding for the federal government came from the states, and having the legislatures appoint senators meant that the states would have more control over the federal government. The Senate was insulated from the popular vote in part because the system was designed to keep citizens more insulated from the federal government. The system may have developed some problems and abuses, but the notion that the Founding Fathers made some huge mistake in setting up the Senate this way is wrong.

I don't see any point in fighting a battle to repeal the 17th Amendment, but discussion of the issue doesn't disqualify someone from high office. If Rick Perry really showed himself capable of holding this kind of intellectual discussion about the Founding Fathers' purpose in not having direct election of senators, I'd respect him more. His debate performances suggest that someone else wrote the book for him by putting together various bits and pieces of ideas that have been floated in conservative circles.

craigs said...

You miss the point. I indicated the legislatures appointed Senators, but the history of the period is that state political machines , often headed by the Governor, and dominated by legislators beholden to the Governor, appointed Senators selected by Governors.
If there ever was a 21st century state where this model was representative, it is Rick Perrys Texas


DanL said...


Care to actually refute the corruption that Craig wrote about? Or would you rather just regurgitate tea party talking points the way that Rick Perry and Glenn Beck do?

Craig made a mistake about governors appointing senators pre 17th Amendment...so what. Legislators can be bought and paid for too.

In your world the repeal of the 17th Amendment is hunky dory, for others of us it is not. The 17th Amendment is a popular boogey man for tea partiers...and we saw last night that some of them would also prefer that their fellow human beings die rather than receive life saving health care. Just because a bunch of like minded nut cases get together and chant about repealing the 17th Amendment while flagellating themselves doesn't meant that people who aren't crazy will relish this gimmick.

The constitution is a great document. But in its original form was not perfect, as the framers well knew. That is why they included a provision for amending the constitution. The 17th Amendment was an improvement.

Rick Perry didn't make any kind of intellectual assessment of the 17th Amendment, he merely parroted a boilerplate tea party talking point. No kudos for that.

You also argue that the originalist idea was that senators should be insulated from popular sentiment and take the long view. But under the old system a state legislature could remove and replace a senator at any time. Hardly the long view. At least now the senators are elected for 6 year terms, instead of facing the possibility of being in office for 1 year, 1 month, or 1 week, depending on the capricious whims of a corrupt state legislature.

craigs said...

I said, in the first sentence of the second paragraph, that " legislatures appointed Senators."
Anon just read it wrong