The Democrats running for president this year seem to be converging on a new and notable consensus for the party: Innovative policy ideas are not enough. The “system” needs reform. Most notably, several candidates are strongly—and correctly, in my view—calling for the elimination of the Electoral College. Some candidates have also gotten behind proposals to pack the Court and to eliminate the filibuster, all strategies for overcoming what they see as a fundamentally dysfunctional system of government.
But hovering over the Democratic debate are incredibly tough circumstances for any structural reforms at all. After all, whatever presidential candidates may promise, they must surely know how weak the powers of the presidency are, especially with regard to domestic issues, unless there is a fully cooperative Congress. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency (and Mitch McConnell remained majority leader of the Senate), there is no reason whatsoever to believe that she would have been successful at attaining any of her objectives, save for those that might have been achieved through pushing the envelope of executive power every bit as much as President Donald Trump has.
And that, too, is a big part of the problem, for a very simple reason going back to 1787: The Senate violates any principle of “one person, one vote” that ostensibly structures the American polity at least since the “reapportionment revolution” of the 1960s. Gerrymandering, of course, grievously affects the House of Representatives, but the Senate’s disproportion is, quite possibly, worse. Just nine states—meaning 18 Senate votes—are home to roughly 52 percent of the American population. The remaining 41-state minority enjoys 82 votes. By 2040, it is estimated that 70 percent of the population will live in 15 states—30 Senate votes—while the remaining 30 percent of Americans will have 70 senators. The presence, and importance, of the Senate thus raises fundamental issues of political legitimacy akin to those raised by American patriots in 1776 who rejected the authority of the British Parliament.