The U.S. Constitution versus the Democratic Party: at least one is working as it should.



Matt Yglesias has his knee breeches and silk stockings in a twist because ZOMG “vast power is being wielded by people who, in a democratic system of government, would have almost no power. We’re talking, after all, about Max Baucus of Montana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, and Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Collectively those six states contain about 2.74 percent of the population, less than New Jersey, or about one fifth the population of California.”  (Via The Daily Beast.)  Funny, I don’t hear too many pundits all that upset when Senators from those same states (or others equally unpopulated) are rewriting or blocking legislation of which they disapprove.

So:  duh, Matt.  It’s been that way for 220 years, and in fact the decision to apportion senate seats by politically-defined land masses instead of by population has been used to block legislation throughout American history.  That’s what the Senate was designed to do!  It’s a feature, not a bug.  Read the U.S. Constituion, Article I, section 3, and it’s as plain as daylight dawning on Long’s Peak.  I’m not saying it’s right–this giveaway to small states was in part a result of the Continental Congress’s Constitutional Convention’s adoption of the nefarious 3/5 Compromise, in which large southern states totally scored by getting the U.S. to count enslaved people only for the purposes of determining representation in the U.S. House–they weren’t extended the rights and privileges of citizenship.  The agreement to give 2 Senators to each state–the Connecticut Compromise–was a bone the big slave states had to toss to the somewhat more urban small states like Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Delaware, which happened to be mostly in the North and mostly not states in which enslaved labor was a large part of the population.

It was perfectly clear by the end of the nineteenth century that the smaller, northeastern states had the short end of the stick of congressional representation, after westward U.S. imperial expansion had turned the Great American Desert (and beyond) into a bunch of large, squarish political land masses with very small populations and yet 2 Senators apiece.  Thus the domination of the rural southern and western minority over the urban majority continued into the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries.  You want a Corrupt Bargain?  I got yer Corrupt Bargain, right here, pally.  The North and East haven’t caught a break since John Quincy Adams’s “selection” in 1824.  (For the record:  I supported Andrew Jackson in both 1824 and 1828, but as you probably already know, I wasn’t permitted to vote because of my sex.)

Now, to the matter at hand, our pathetic “health care reform” debate, which seems to be more about figuring out how to subsidize for-profit health insurance companies:  is it really hopelessly screwed up because of the Connecticut Compromise?  Me, I think it would be a grand idea for California to have 10 U.S. Senators while one Senator serves Wyoming from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then Maine from 1-6 p.m.–but that’s really beside the point.  Because it’s not really the fact that Senators from Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Maine, Iowa, and New Mexico don’t represent as many people as Senators from New York, Ohio, New Jersey, or California that’s the problem–the real problem is that they’re representing Big Pharma and the insurance industry instead of their constituents, however numerous (or not).  Remember the “nuclear option” debates about the filibuster in 2003-04?  Republicans accomplished more with 50 Senators plus Dick Cheney than the Dems have managed to do yet with 60!  Remember too what “History’s Greatest Monster” once said:  “When people are insecure, they’d rather have somebody who is strong and wrong than someone who’s weak and right.”  And when you whine about rules that have been around for 220 years–well, that’s pretty damn weak.

icanhashealthcareSo who is it exactly who’s permitting Max Baucus to think he’s President of the United States?  Reach down and find your gonads, Dems, and pray that you can withstand the barrage of the Republican attack machine in August, while you’re taking the month off to sail around Martha’s Vineyard.  I’ll be praying that at least one of you (not Max Baucus) turns into LBJ and gets some $hit done for a change.  (Read a book about LBJ maybe while you’re at the beach:  this one, for exampleJust a suggestion!)  Meanwhile, I’ll look into resuming my campaign for the U.S.  Senate here in Colorado next year.  My campaign slogan?  “I’m just in it for the health insurance,” because you all have an awesome plan with lifetime coverage, from what I understand. 

See you in January 2011, b!tchez.

0 thoughts on “The U.S. Constitution versus the Democratic Party: at least one is working as it should.

  1. “Me, I think it would be a grand idea for California to have 10 U.S. Senators while one Senator serves Wyoming from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then Maine from 1-6 p.m.–but that’s really beside the point.”

    Ya know, Historiann, if the whole Senate thing doesn’t work out, we think you’d be great on the Supreme Court. We like the way you think! And I bet they’ve got a fine health-care plan, too. Historiann for SCOTUS!


  2. You almost made me spit my drink with the comment about one senator for Wyoming and Maine. Having grown up in California, and then driven across the entire state of Wyoming without seeing more than a dozen people, I heartily concur.


  3. The question of representation in the Senate has some ramifications that aren’t as obvious. When I was a fellow at the Huntington a few years ago I got the opportunity to sit next to a retired federal judge–a trustee of the library–at a fellows dinner. She complained mightily about the workload of serving on the 9th circuit of appeals. The 9th circuit covers a far larger population than any of the other circuits. California all on its own has as large a population as any other circuit in the Court of appeals.

    So why do judges here have to manage appeals for nine different states? Because the Senate appoints judges. The current system means that there are 18 Senators looking out for circuit’s interests. But this leads to all kinds of distortions in its operation. (I got to hear many details about how this made life difficult for the justices.)

    It was interesting to hear this perspective. It really made me appreciate how f’ed our constitutional structure is in some respects. So go, constitutional convention and our branches of government!


  4. One big success for the Republicans is the Gates event. An obnoxious and racist white police officer arrests one of the most prominent intellectuals in the United States in his own house, and all of a sudden the president is asking that fool of an officer to have a beer at the White House. The right wing has had a racist field day with this. And all of it less than a month after they managed to portray a Latina as racist because she dared to use the term “white men.”

    The Republicans have figured out something — you can say the most outrageous things, but if you say them with conviction and don’t back down, the other side will. How can Obama pass health care when he can’t even stand up to a cop-thug?


  5. Historiann–I believe you are right: the compromise of giving all states two senators as well as representation in the House is a feature, not a bug. It (like Senate confirmation hearings) is supposed to minimalize partisan power plays, by encouraging legislation and appointments that win broad approval by being widely popular or at least acceptable (and maybe it worked more effectively that way when most senators were appointed, not elected?–or maybe it only ever really worked in theory?). Recent political discourse that assumes that Justice appointments (or legislation) should be about mandates and partisan opportunities really run counter to the whole logic of checks and balances that is supposed to keep not only one branch of government from getting too much power, but should also keep individual factions or parties from getting too much power. Mandates, etc, follow this troubling logic: let’s act in our party’s favor before the check or balance can be used against us.

    But then again, I also tend to believe it was a mistake to allow corporations to voice opinions (i.e., pay for commercials, etc) about matters subject to voting, whether candidates or issues. The health care debate should be carried on without interference from those non-voting entities who have a financial stake in the outcome. If a rich physician wants to bend my ear about his or her opinion, I’ll be as willing to listen to said doctor as to any other voter, but until all voters have equal access to the same opinion-spreading technologies, I’m uneasy with the claim that spending money equals “free speech.”


  6. ‘Zounds woman! You supported a man who implemented Indian Removal over the heads of the Supreme Court! For shame!

    In terms of health care news this just solidifies my intention to take over as Grand Dictator of California and then secede — forget my plans to run the UC system! I’ll go straight to the top! As people point out, in terms of size, population, and economy, we’re larger than quite a few of the big-dog countries …. now to just make sure we take our water sources with us when we secede and it will all go brilliantly!

    And in a totally random note, I went to grad school with someone who went to the same high school as Bingaman — and when he first ran she told me this, adding, “eh, I always thought that man was a few plates short of a picnic.” Heh. Just because of that line I’ve been following his poli career pretty closely (smirking all the while).


  7. I have tried not to think about how we’re being screwed. Personally, I think that the worst thing ever was that paid advertising is now considered “free” speech. Secret — if you have to pay for it, it isn’t free!

    I’m backing Historiann for Senate, and Sis for dictator of California. Let me know when you’ve established your campaign committee and my millions — or maybe thousands -(of pennies) will be on their way.


  8. Good morning, everyone–I thought the Californians among you might find something to like here! I’d be perfectly happy to relinquist my seat as U.S. Senator if my scheme of letting representation be determined by population and not by acres of land ever happens. Colorado will probably hold onto just one Senate seat in that case–but I’ll have the lifetime health care benefits, so I won’t care!

    Roxie, my dream job is actually to be on the Supreme Court. Being a history professor is just a backup plan. Some day, maybe! If I get there, maybe I can reverse that incredibly desstructive and corrupt ruling in the 19th century that (as Tom and Susan suggest) made corporations the equivalent of citizens, with the rights of U.S. citizens. Never mind that corporations don’t have bodies that might break down or fail, don’t have a finite life span, and have therefore not just more money but also more time than any living human being. It was the creation of a legal sociopathology.

    Sisyphus, what can I say? I’ve been a loyal Dem since the days of the Antifederalists. And in the end, my (non) vote for Jackson didn’t make a difference. I’ve cast some silly votes in my life–such as voting for Jerry Brown in the 1992 Pennsylvania primary! (Wev.)

    Rad, you’ve got it exactly: “The Republicans have figured out something — you can say the most outrageous things, but if you say them with conviction and don’t back down, the other side will. How can Obama pass health care when he can’t even stand up to a cop-thug?” There’s been just too much conciliation and kum-bye-yah this year all along, not just with Obama but among Congressional Dems generally. I don’t get why they don’t kneecap the Blue Dogs and the Republicans, the way they were kneecapped in the early 2000s. I didn’t like George Bush, but I’ve come retrospectively to admire his determination to use power once he got his hands on the levers. I don’t get it why our current crop of Dem leaders don’t seem to feel the same zeal.

    Unless they expended all of their aggressive energy in defeating Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary, and it was more important to “beat the bitch” than it is now to actually USE the power they won? Could be. Obama was pretty darned determined to crush her, and he did–why doesn’t he do the same with the Blue Dogs and the Rs?


  9. p.s. to Rad and others interested in l’affaire Gates and its amazing powers of distraction from the much more consequential debates and wranglings over “health care reform”–Roxie has a great post up today about the so-called “racist nosy neighbor.” The 911 call recordings released yesterday show that she never identified the possible “thieves” breaking into Gates’s house as African American, never talked about them having “backpacks,” and Officer Crowley never talked to her about any of this–which suggests strongly that Officer Crowley lied in his police report. Roxie asks why the neighbor who made the call isn’t invited to the WH for suds: “If this was a case about racial profiling – and no less a figure than the president of the United States has said that it is – then Lucia Whalen was the first profiler, a white woman who couldn’t imagine that two black men had legitimate reasons for trying to open a door in elite Cambridge. She was a nosy neighbor, a snooty bitch, the latest avatar of white womanhood imperiled by the black stranger in her midst. Except that maybe she wasn’t any of those things.” So now, a show of male solidarity will be performed tomorrow night, and never mind the ignorant aspersions innocent bystander woman who did her duty without prejudice. Cherchez la femme, people, cherchez la femme!


  10. Tom & Susan — so right on. Historiann, I thought the money = free speech dealie-o was a result of Buckley vs. Valeo (1976), not a 19th century legacy? but I am an anthropologienne, not a historiann, so if it has deeper roots I’d be interested to learn about ’em.

    As an American working in Canada, not that anyone here will be surprised, but anyway, I’d just like to affirm that “Canadian style healthcare” is dreamy like Outsiders-vintage Ralph Macchio.


  11. Kathleen, I’m certainly not a 19th C Constitutional historian, so perhaps some of my more knowledgeable readers will weigh in on this. But from what I understand, the Supreme Court in the 1880s and 90s struck back against progressive legislation being passed in populist states meant to exert greater regulatory authority over businesses by hauling out the 14th Amendment and deciding that its language applied to corporations, specifically the part that says “no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” Thus corporations were deemed the equivalent of “persons.”

    That’s not to say that the Buckley v. Valeo case wasn’t important–just that the domination of the federal government by the Republicans ca. 1860-1910 rendered many corrupt fruits, one of which was the psychopathology of the corporation, and that the roots of this are pretty deep in American history.


  12. The whole debate on health care has been so restricted and frustrating – see James Rainey’s column in today’s LA Times about how the media focuses on the deadline and the fighting, while ignoring the actual policy choices, and particularly refusing to discuss single payer health care:,0,566995.column (full disclosure, my husband is a physician who is very active in Physicians for a National Health Program

    Free speech indeed, but only what the blinkered media thinks the public can handle – much better to debate Skip Gates! and on that, I think it was Arianna Huffington who made a comment about all the testosterone in the air, which made me consider how the incident might have gone down (or not gone down at all!) if either the Harvard professor or the Cambridge cop had been female. Just a thought.


  13. Like Sisyphus, I am shocked — SHOCKED — by your support of Andrew Jackson. He opened the door to war with Mexico (within the last 24 hours of his presidency) by recognizing the Texas rebels as an independent nation (Something Mexico never did). And we won’t even get into his irrational fear of a national bank.


  14. Pingback: sack up, dems « Faux Populi

  15. Pingback: Someone even more cynical than Historiann? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  16. Whilst I generally concur with the idea that representation should reflect the number in the population, it can lead to an urban bias in political decision-making, especially in regard to the economy. In the UK, where constituencies are determined by population size, and where a large chunk of the population live in London, the rest of the country is repeatedly sold out in favour of economic policies that benefit London. So, for example, they raise petrol prices or car tax to discourage Londoners from driving in a place with excellent public transport- but those of us who live rurally, where public transport is practically non-existant, have to pay the cost. And this is writ large on economic policy more broadly.

    On the other hand, the nature of the federal system should be able to counteract some of these issues if population based constituencies were used in the US.


  17. Pingback: Monday’s reading assignment: “What Were They Thinking?” : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

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