Abolish the Senate

by Michael Walsh

What a good idea. Alas, it’s not happening here but in Ireland — and they vote on it tomorrow. The BBC reports:

The Republic of Ireland [will] vote this week to abolish its upper house of parliament, the Seanad. It is a move favoured by most political parties and opinion polls suggest the public mainly support abolition too, but are the Irish people fed up with their senators – or with the political class as a whole?

Asked and answered: They’ve had it up to their Hibernian keisters with the unresponsive, arrogant, expensive, and useless political class that led the Celtic Tiger to the slaughterhouse in 2008, and for which it’s paid absolutely no price, and the heads of members of the Seanad are widely thought to make handsome pike decorations along the Galway-Dublin motorway. After a summer there, I left Eire a couple of week ago, but the road sides were already sprouting “Abolish the Seanad” signs well before I left. Talk to any Irish landowner (a raft of new taxes in a land that prided itself on no property tax, which was viewed as a vestige of rapacious English landlordism) or shopkeeper (new taxes, fees, regulations) — all in the name of “austerity” — and to a man they’ll tell you of their hatred for the political class that brought the country to this pass. Among the indictments: 

* the Seanad is a rest home for people who could not get into the Dail (the main chamber of parliament) or who have been kicked out of it
* it is stuffed with the useless cronies of the powerful
* it is undemocratic and a scandalous waste of money

There are some arguments in favor of keeping the Seanad, although they mostly have to do with how it might function effectively, were it to function effectively. And a wise punter never bets on the outcome of an Irish referendum. Still, as an example of what can be done if you put your mind and your shoulder to it, it offers a happy thought for America. Our Senate currently bears no resemblance to what the Founders envisioned (the ill-considered Seventeenth Amendment has seen to that) and now functions are a collection-for-life of blow-dried nonentities who hope for higher office, gubernatorial appointees, or colorless sinecure-seekers. Mark Levin has fileted the 17th amendment in his new best-selling, The Liberty Amendments

According to Levin, the 17th Amendment was “sold as a cleansing and transformative expansion of popular democracy,” but it is “actually an object lesson in the malignancy of the Progressive mind-set and its destructive impact on the way we practice self-government in a twenty-first-century, post-constitutional nation.”

The 17th Amendment changed the way most senators had been chosen for 124 years. Before its ratification, senators were selected by the state legislatures, two from each state.

“Considered by itself, the Seventeenth Amendment seemed reasonable enough,” Levin writes, “which is why it was ratified in near-record time. If democracy in limited doses is good, so went the Progressive cant at the time, more democracy could only be proportionally better.”

Proponents of the amendment thought that if electing congressmen to the House by popular vote worked so well, why not choose senators by direct popular elections too?

According to Levin, the fact that the framers believed the original method to be “critical to the proper functioning of the federal government” didn’t seem to matter.

The framers understood that “the will of the people—subject to majoritarian and factional swings and lurches—should be balanced with dispassionate, considered judgment through a stable and diffused governing construct.”

Levin explains that the state legislatures’ role in selecting senators was a firewall against centralized power and that there was “never any serious consideration of the direct popular election of both houses of Congress.”

As it happens, the Irish Seanad is not popularly elected at all:

Eleven of the 60 senators are appointed by the Taoiseach [prime minister]. Six are chosen by graduates of two Irish universities. The other 43 are elected mainly by local councillors.

So that doesn’t work, either. And there are lots of reasons for the Celtic Tiger’s collapse, including its injudicious adoption of the euro. The country is reeling from a horrid economy, and once again Ireland is net exporting its human capital to the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, instead of keeping the young people home and working. But the main reason the abolitionist movement is likely to win is that the people are fed up with the political class and want to send it a message: Get out and stay out.  

Who says it can’t happen here? All conservatives need is a leader to lead the counter-revolution and restoration. You want smaller government? Start cutting it down to size. And that can happen here. 

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