“A democracy, ma’am, if you can keep it,” said Benjamin Franklin never. Yet that is what many in the media, such as Tom Moran at NJ.com, would have you believe. In his latest opinion column, Moran refers to “universal reverence for our Founding Fathers” as the “secular religion” of the United States. I can name two more, perhaps three on a technicality: The United Church of Democracy and the Party Above All Congregation, the latter currently in schism over minor theological technicalities.
This devotee of democracy and the Democratic Party begins with what has become the stale argument against their demon known as the Constitution:
The problem is that all states, big or small, get the same two seats in the Senate. That gives a nearly vacant state like Wyoming the same heft as California or New York. It gives a voter in Cheyenne 66 times more power than a voter in San Francisco in shaping the Senate.
The first statement shows the ignorance or indifference to the fact that in the compound republic the founders, imperfect but wise men, gave us, that was the whole purpose of the Senate, the Constitution and its predecessor, the Articles of Confederation. The founders knew the dangers of consolidated power and tried to protect against this. We hear more about the checks and balances in terms of what one branch can do to limit the powers of the other two. The Senate, however, was intended to protect both against the tyranny of a government unaccountable to the home constituents and against the fickle, emotional whims of the majority. Each separate state had an equal say in the Senate, and each Senator was accountable to the state legislature at home. If the Senator acted against the interests and autonomy of the home state, the state legislature could recall him and choose another.
As for the second statement, what gives a voter in Cheyenne allegedly 66 times more power than a voter in San Francisco is a pesky, hyper-democratic addition to our Constitution known as the 17th Amendment, which called for the popular election of Senators. With that amendment, no longer were de facto ambassadors to the federal government from their states, but people who could make flowery promises to the masses, get elected, consolidate more power and confirm judges who would uphold this central power grab. Look at us now if you don’t agree, and try to argue that our government is less centralized and more accountable than it was a century ago. No one logically can.
While New Jersey has the 11th highest population of any state in the union, it was not always so. In the early days, New Jersey was actually one of the less populous states responsible for the creation of the Senate, as Moran points out:
According to a Gallup poll after the 2012 elections, the five most red states in the country were Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota, and Alaska.
Their combined population is less than New Jersey’s. But they get 10 seats in the Senate, while we get just two. And nine of their 10 seats are held by Republicans.
Quoting Professor Sanford Levinson’s book, “Our Undemocratic Constitution,” he goes on:
“We are stuck with that because James Madison submitted to the extortion of Delaware, and probably New Jersey, for equal representation,” Levinson says. “The alternative is they would have probably walked and there would be no Constitution. But it is indefensible in any 21st century notion of democratic governance.”
New Jersey used to have this same problem. Until 1965, each of the 21 counties elected one senator, regardless of the county’s population. Cape May has roughly one-tenth as many people as Bergen. Does any sane person believe they should have the same heft in the state Senate?
New Jersey, at least, was able to change that archaic rule once the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down as undemocratic. The problem is that the high court lacks the authority to change the federal Constitution and fix precisely the same problem in the U.S. Senate.
The irony here is that Moran praises nine unelected, distant, unaccountable, black-robed oligarchs for imposing more democratic measures on New Jersey, overriding our state constitution in order to do so. Isn’t it somewhat undemocratic to have a Supreme Court at all, one which claims the authority to override, on rare occasions, legislation that our elected officials in both houses passed? If New Jersey had refused to comply with the Supreme Court, as is their right under the 10th Amendment, perhaps it would have been a good idea to use military force, sending the national guard in to “impose” democracy on us New Jerseyans, much like Republicans have done in Afghanistan, Iraq and the South.
Moran would love to see the Constitution become easier to amend, as he does not hesitate to express:
Before even putting the question to the states, the change would have to be proposed by a Constitutional convention or by a two-thirds vote of both the Senate and House. Washington hasn’t seen that kind of unity of purpose since Nikita Khrushchev was banging his shoe on a United Nations podium and threatening to bury us.
Not that the United Nations has been any sort of a success by any standard, but maybe it would be better if the countries had voting rights based on population size. After all, why should those smaller nations have just as much say as America? Plus, with the break up of the Soviet Union over two decades ago, our representation could easily outvote any Russian delegation and stop Putin in his tracks.
The last item Moran brings up is the issue of gerrymandering. Yes, because Democrats would never resort to gerrymandering in our state legislative districts. That couldn’t be the reason our state officials have an even higher reelection rate than those in Congress. If the Democrats control Congress in 2020, there will be just as much gerrymandering, just in a different way. Somehow, one might suspect the contributors at nj.com will not be as vocal about that problem then.
In a democracy, there is the tendency too often for those in the majority to impose their will on the minority. The founders knew this, and wanted to prevent this. When the Democrats were in the minority during the Bush presidency, they knew it was dangerous to live under a government whose modus operandi was “majority rules,” and they had some wise words to share in this regard. However, if Mr. Moran still believes democracy is the way to go, I’d like to invite him to lunch sometime to discuss it.