Kill the 17th Amendment!


One of the pleasures that comes from following the triumph of candidates who weren't selected by members of their party's establishment is the slow mainstreaming of wacky ideas. Call it the victory of the heckler's vetoers or attribute it to the dynamics of the way groups are formed, but more and more outre ideas are finding their way into politics these days. And that's OK. American politics ought to encompass more than a narrow range of ideologies and orthodoxies.

Two recent Tea Party-backed candidates who had success in beating Washington-designated candidates are quite taken with the idea of repealing the 17th amendment. Ratified in 1913, it provides for the direct election of U.S. senators. Previously, state legislatures chose the senators. Lots of logistical problems resulted, but you could fairly attribute the popular constitutional amendment to the Progressive movement and to political entrepreneurs in the press. Well, newly-minted Republican nominee for Idaho's first congressional district Raul Labrador wants to repeal the amendment.

As TalkingPointsMemo notes, "Supporters of the plan say that ending the public vote for Senators would give the states more power to protect their own interests in Washington (and of course, give all of us "more liberty" in the process.) As their process of 'vetting' candidates, some tea party groups have required candidates to weigh in on the idea of repeal in questionnaires."

It's become a part of the Tea Party orthodoxy, now. Being not sure about the amendment, or not knowing why the heck anyone would want to tinker with direct election of senators, marks you with the stink of the establishment. That's what Labrador's opponent, Vaughn Ward, found out when he flip-flopped in the issue.

Indeed, a U.S. senator might be elected with similar views; Tim Bridgewater was one of the two Tea Party-backed candidates to beat Robert Bennett at the Utah Republican convention a few weeks ago. He also supports a repeal of the mechanism that would probably put him in office.

Here is something I don't think Republican strategists in Washington...many of them, anyway, understand about conservative voters now. Their discontent with the party is NOT about ideology. It is, quite simply, about them. The consultants. The leaders. The people who were NOT able to prevent Obama from becoming president. The people who were NOT able to prevent health care from being signed into law, despite promising that it wouldn't be. The people who fed the bailout engine. So ideas that seem extreme and bizarre to the powers that be might be more accepted by discontented voters simply because the mainstream forces consider them to be extreme.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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