The Corner

On Repealing the 17th Amendment

The last issue of NR contains an unusually large number of articles with which I disagree. I’ll focus here on Todd Zywicki’s advocacy of repealing the 17th amendment, and thus allowing state legislatures to select U.S. senators. The argument for indirect selection — which Professor Zywicki makes about as well as it can be made, I think — is a perfectly reasonable one, with which I have no quarrel. But I think there are several reasons for conservatives not to take up this fight.

1a) Amending the constitution is an immense political task. Does anyone really think that we are going to persuade 38 states to agree that voters should not choose senators directly? The difficulty of the task doesn’t mean it’s not worth undertaking: Sometimes even a losing battle can educate the public about the underlying issues and thus promote the cause (in this case federalism). But it is a consideration that tells against making the effort.

1b) If 38 states were willing to enact this amendment, we would probably already be living in such a republican and conservative country that it would not be necessary to enact in the first place.

2) It will probably seem rather odd to the vast majority of Americans who are not committed constitutionalist conservatives to see conservatives devoting a large portion of their energies (as they would have to do; see 1a) to this topic rather than to more direct measures to reduce federal spending, reduce the debt, revive the economy, and so forth.

3) This campaign would actually miseducate Americans, since it would suggest that what has gone wrong with American federalism is that the federal government has grown at the expense of the states and that the solution is to increase the power of the states against the federal government. That is indeed the impression you would get from a lot of conservative rhetoric about federalism, but I do not believe it is true. (I had an essay making my case in a recent NR.) Contemporary state governments are more the allies than the victims of the swelling federal government. I would not look to newly-empowered state legislators as a class to find resistance to federal bailouts of the states, or for help in letting people buy health insurance across state lines.

I think then that conservatives should keep the discussion of the 17th amendment confined to the theoretical rather than the practical-political realm.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

Film & TV

Why We Can’t Have Wakanda

SPOILERS AHEAD Black Panther is a really good movie that lives up to the hype in just about every way. Surely someone at Marvel Studios had an early doubt, reading the script and thinking: “Wait, we’re going to have hundreds of African warriors in brightly colored tribal garb, using ancient weapons, ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More