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Monday, May 12, 2003
the differences are as old as the constitution
The NYT publishes a decent primer on the differences between the House and Senate, focusing more (I think) on the cultural than the structural differences, but that's OK. This is occasioned by the struggles of the last few years resulting from no party enjoying more than a 2-vote majority in the Senate. It's nothing special, but it is a pretty good overview of the current historical situation for structural nerds like myself (and their valued readers).
That said, this is one of the most willfully inaccurate things I've read in a long time, particularly in an article that's going to be read by structure nerds:
To Al Swift, a lobbyist and former Democratic representative from Washington who often poked fun at the stodginess of the Senate, that formulation was a huge mistake. "I think you can make an awfully good argument that the Senate is the least democratic democratic institution on the face of the earth," Mr. Swift said. "You are able to prevent the majority from working its will well beyond anything that should be allowed."
No shit, Sherlock. It's not democratic: it's republican, and it makes a whole lot of sense. The founders had a deep distrust of democracy, since the tyranny of the majority has been as much a problem throughout human history as the tyranny of a select few. Minorities need to be protected, and the theory behind the Senate is sound. Indeed, I think it's this skepticism toward our erstwhile form of government that has sustained it for these many years, and it is precisely this lack of skepticism that gets people so up in arms about our foreign policy. It's unfortunate that people seem to have (conveniently) forgotten that we're not a democracy, we're a representative or republican democracy, and that the Senate system is a vital part of that, but it nevertheless remains true and relevant. The internecine structures of the Senate and the ways bills can get killed might strike some as unjust, but so are the blindly populist and pandering policies that get passed in the House, and since no one's come up with a viable idea for a perfect legislature yet, the way these two balance each other out seems to work OK. This is not to say that it works perfectly or that there aren't a bunch of structural changes that would make it work better, but criticizing the Senate for being undemocratic is like criticizing chocolate ice cream for not tasting like vanilla. It's not supposed to.
Of course, I may be a wee bit bitter because Mr. Swift loves telecommunications deregulation so very much, a subject on which we would be in disagreement, but that's irrelevant to the nimwittedness of his remark.