Patterico's Pontifications

4/28/2022

Amend Constitution to Bar Senators From The Presidency?

Filed under: General — Dana @ 4:16 pm



[guest post by Dana]

George Will has a thought provoking opinion piece proposing that we amend the Constitution to prevent senators from becoming president. In reading it, it sure sounds like an effort to protect voters from themselves, as much as anything else. But is it really the job of the government to protect us from our own worst inclinations in the voting booth or before we get to that point? I don’t think so. Moreover, the unhinged president who attacked the Rule of Law, and even now continues to work to overturn the 2020 presidential election and consistently lies about it was never a Senator, so…

To conserve the reverence it needs and deserves, the Constitution should be amended rarely and reluctantly. There is, however, an amendment that would instantly improve the legislative and executive branches. It would read: “No senator or former senator shall be eligible to be president.”

Seventeen presidents were previously senators. Seven of them – Harding, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Obama, Biden — became senators after 1913, when the 17th Amendment took the selection of senators away from state legislatures. The federal government’s growth, and the national media’s focus on Washington, has increased the prominence of senators eager for prominence, although it often is the prominence of a ship’s figurehead — decorative, not functional. As president-centric government has waxed, the Senate has waned, becoming increasingly a theater of performative behaviors by senators who are decreasingly interested in legislating, and are increasingly preoccupied with using social media for self-promotion.

In Jonathan Haidt’s recent essay for the Atlantic, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” the New York University social psychologist says social media users by the millions have become comfortable and adept at “putting on performances” for strangers. So have too many senators. Haidt says social media elicits “our most moralistic and least reflective selves,” fueling the “twitchy and explosive spread of anger.”

Politicians, and especially senators with presidential ambitions and time on their hands, use social media to practice what Alexander Hamilton deplored (in Federalist 68) as “the little arts of popularity.” Such senators, like millions of Americans, use social media to express and encourage anger about this and that. Anger, like other popular pleasures, can be addictive, particularly if it supplies the default vocabulary for social media.

Today, the gruesome possibility of a 2024 Biden-Trump rematch underscores a Hamilton misjudgment: He said in Federalist 68 there is a “constant probability” of presidents “pre-eminent for ability and virtue.” Banning senators from the presidency would increase the probability of having senators who are interested in being senators, and would increase the probability of avoiding:

Presidents who have never run anything larger than a Senate office. Who have confused striking poses — in the Capitol, on Twitter — with governing. Who have delegated legislative powers to the executive — for example, who have passed sentiment-affirmations masquerading as laws: Hurray for education and the environment; the executive branch shall fill in the details.

And who have been comfortable running the government on continuing resolutions (at existing funding levels) because Congress is incapable of budgeting. There have been 128 CRs in the previous 25 fiscal years — 41 since 2012. Why look for presidents among senators, who have made irresponsibility routine?

The 328 senators of the previous 50 years have illustrated the tyranny of the bell-shaped curve: a few of them dreadful, a few excellent, most mediocre. Although Josh Hawley, Missouri’s freshman Republican, might not be worse than all the other 327, he exemplifies the worst about would-be presidents incubated in the Senate. Arriving there in January 2019, he hit the ground running — away from the Senate. Twenty-four months later, he was the principal catalyst of the attempted nullification of the presidential election preceding the one that he hopes will elevate him. Nimbly clambering aboard every passing bandwagon that can carry him to the Fox News greenroom, he treats the Senate as a mere steppingstone for his ascent to an office commensurate with his estimate of his talents.

This, of course:

Does [George] Will believe that Barack Obama was less suited to be president than Donald Trump?

–Dana

34 Responses to “Amend Constitution to Bar Senators From The Presidency?”

  1. Woohoo, love the updated comment section!

    Dana (5395f9)

  2. Repeal the 17th. Problem solved.

    NJRob (607585)

  3. George Will has a thought provoking opinion piece proposing that we amend the Constitution to prevent senators from becoming president.

    The thought provoked is Will’s own irrelevancy.

    Remember when Will criticized Obama for wearing blue jeans? Something Reagan routinely wore on his ranch. There has never been a U.S. senator who awakes, dresses, looks in the mirror and whispers, Joe Biden style:

    ‘Good morning, Mr. President.’

    And yes, that goes for the ladies like Hillary, too. 😉

    DCSCA (ceff72)

  4. If the Unabomber could write a 35,000 word manifesto, George Will can write a 1,000 word article. Inanity does not need to encompass aphasia.

    Thought-provoking? I suppose. It certainly made me think that if I had “thoughts” like that, I would be too embarrassed to express them to my doctor let alone put them in writing.

    nk (8a80a7)

  5. Yeah, I think the last thing any Constitutionalist would want to do is start randomly disqualifying natural born American citizens from the Presidency. I’m not a fan of a system which gives us the Josh Hawleys and Elizabeth Warrens of the world, but that’s really for the people of Missouri and Massachusetts (and the rest of us) to figure out on our own, without the crutch of a Constitutional amendment.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  6. Only three sitting Senators have been elected President (Harding, Kennedy and Obama). Since the 12th Amendment made the VP a member of the President’s party, only two sitting VPs have been elected President (Van Buren and GHWB).

    All in all, one is about 10 times more likely to be elected President if one is NOT a current Senator or VP.

    Kevin M (eeb9e9)

  7. A better reform, but at the state level:

    “No person may be a member of the lower House who has, during the preceding 3 years, been a member of the state Bar.”

    Not that I’m against lawyers serving in government, but any single profession having undue influence on government can result in rent-seeking behavior. Besides, the judiciary is reserved to lawyers, so an exclusion elsewhere does not seem onerous. They can resign from the bar, get honest work, and run for office in 3 years time, so they aren’t really excluded anyway.

    Kevin M (eeb9e9)

  8. I really think repealing the 17th would moderate the extremes Senators.

    State legislature directly voting for Senators would at the very least, reflect the state constituents closer instead of the population centers dominating the direct election.

    whembly (7e0293)

  9. Mr. Will points out that seven senators have ascended to the Presidency since 1913, or one every fourteen years. Going back to the start of the nation there were ten or one every 12.4 years. Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, Trump, Biden; over that time span of 46 years there have been two ex senators. Does not look like much of a trend to me.
    Haven’t Senators always been a little self important?

    Fred (cfb084)

  10. I like “No person shall be elected President unless I want him to”, and I think it’s an idea that could catch on with a lot of people. What do you guys think?

    nk (8a80a7)

  11. I wouldn’t worry about a republican senator becoming president – they hate the people that vote for them and the “them” are about to vote them out.

    mg (8cbc69)

  12. “No person shall be elected President” works for me.

    Kevin M (eeb9e9)

  13. “State legislature directly voting for Senators would at the very least, reflect the state constituents closer instead of the population centers dominating the direct election.”

    What fraction of a country dweller’s vote do you think city dwellers deserve? 2/3? 3/5?

    Davethulhu (da3c71)

  14. “State legislature directly voting for Senators would at the very least, reflect the state constituents closer instead of the population centers dominating the direct election.”

    What makes you think it would be any better? Or any different?

    Why would proxies for rural and urban vote differently than the actual voters? We no longer have unequal election districts (unlike back in good old 1917) so the distribution would be similar. Gerrymanders might have an effect, though, as would the lack of a secret ballot; neither of which is true about a direct election.

    I guess one could argue that voters are easy to manipulate and make stupid choices, but I would like to hear an argument why this is untrue of state legislators.

    I kind of side with ‘thulhu here.

    Kevin M (eeb9e9)

  15. State legislature directly voting for Senators

    Just for fun, why not have an electoral college at the state level, where each county gets so many EVs (mostly based on population) that go to the county winner.

    Kevin M (eeb9e9)

  16. 26 states with 18% of the population control 52 senate seats. Here is a real problem that needs fixing. Liberal democrats get more votes for house and senate candidates ;but republican don’t need the majority of voters to win. This only works as long as the corporate establishment and their lackeys in the news media can control and foist corrupt grifters like biden and the clintons on the progressive base of the democrat party. 2022 could be a cleansing of corrupt careerists.

    asset (870856)

  17. What fraction of a country dweller’s vote do you think city dwellers deserve? 2/3? 3/5?

    Davethulhu (da3c71) — 4/28/2022 @ 9:48 pm

    Gosh, how on earth were Senators ever elected before the 17th Amendment was passed?

    Factory Working Orphan (2775f0)

  18. 26 states with 18% of the population control 52 senate seats. Here is a real problem that needs fixing. Liberal democrats get more votes for house and senate candidates ;but republican don’t need the majority of voters to win.

    “The current system doesn’t guarantee the power we crave, so let’s change the rules again!”

    Factory Working Orphan (2775f0)

  19. Kevin M (eeb9e9) — 4/28/2022 @ 6:22 pm

    All in all, one is about 10 times more likely to be elected President if one is NOT a current Senator or VP.

    What George Will is talking about is the effect (he thinks) that the possibility of being elected president has on the Senate.

    He thinks it reduces the interest of Senators in the institutional prerogatives of the Senate. I think the effect is not too much. The majority, after all, don’t have any real possibility of becoming president, even if a dozen, at any given time, do. You could argue people who tend to be leaders do.

    I think this would tend to reduce the quality of the Senate, as people with national ambitions would avoid it, and make them more parochial.

    He has an another issue: “Presidents who have never run anything larger than a Senate office” But in that case, he might want to make having been a state governor a prerequisite for being president. That would leave too limited a field. Perhaps add a Cabinet office or some office in a state or city/ Cabinet officials would maybe be too loyal, although I could see people being deliberately nominated and confirmed, especially when young, just to qualify therm.

    There is a problem in having a president who has never run anything, and this includes people who have been vice president. Such a person, never tries out anything and sees what happens. I think the ultimate reason that Nixon ran into trouble (besides his dishonesty) was because he had no real executive experience before becoming president. When he first came into office, he was overwhelned by paperwork, and then Haldeman and Ehrlichman became gatekeepers.

    Senators have familiarity with national issues, but they don’t have to be right, or even attempt to be right, about anything, and George Will thinks they even attempt to be deliberately wrong in public (grandstanding) And he thinks, I think, that the efffects of never having run anythimg, ad the need for good judgement, is something that people don’t see.

    Governors don’t have to have any familiarity at all with what’s going in Washington, or foreign policy, and people in other states don’t know anything about him. You’d have to decide how one thing balances off another.

    If you want to pass any amendment at all, do something positive, not negative. Add a minimum qualification, don;t subtract any persons. A qualification, like for instance, having served for at least nine months – time in a president’s term can run out – as a head of an executive department or a combination of them (which departments must be defined in the amendment and the amendment also come with a provision that Congress can add to the list – and that if it removes any office from the list, it does not remove the qualification of any person who previously occupied it)

    I don’t know what effect such a provision would have on U.S. politics.

    What you actually want is the right person and the real problem is the limited selection of candidates and the fact that the primary system is a demolition derby.

    If we had had such a rule, Andrew Cuomo would have been in a much better position to become president. By the way, we had a Lt Gov who never had to do anything and she’s basically a political hack, which is what Cuomo wanted.

    I think it’d much better for George Will to argue that people should bear in mind the possible drawbacks of limited executive experience . It doesn’t mean anything by itself, as a person could be bad at it – consider George HW Bush – but whose absence doesn’t give the person an opportunity to exhibit – and confront with reality and/or make more visible – bad judgment.

    Anyway such an amendment has almost no possibility of becoming law. And what we need is a bigger field.

    Sammy Finkelman (b434ee)

  20. 15,

    Just for fun, why not have an electoral college at the state level, where each county gets so many EVs (mostly based on population) that go to the county winner.

    Geirgia used too have sucha system (which was also malapportioned) The unit rule.\\Reformers used toargue that if it was absolished a person from Atlanta could get elected Goovernor.\
    It was finally abolished by the United States supreme Court, which ruled that (in all cases except where the opposite was required I mean the United States |Senate) populations of districts had to be nearly equal.

    And a man from Atlanta was elected.

    Lester Maddox.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lester_Maddox

    A populist Democrat, Maddox came to prominence as a staunch segregationist[1] when he refused to serve black customers in his Atlanta restaurant, the Pickrick, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He later served as Georgia lieutenant governor under Jimmy Carter.

    I think Georgia Governors were by then limitedd to one term.

    ears after Maddox’s gubernatorial term ended, Republican Benjamin B. Blackburn described Maddox as a “far better governor than his critics will ever admit”. Blackburn, a former U.S. representative, also noted that no accusation of corruption was made against Maddox, whose administration was characterized by economic development and the appointment of African Americans to state executive positions.[26]

    And he tried ti warn the public about Jimmy Carter’s )intellectual) dishonesty

    Sammy Finkelman (b434ee)

  21. The Senate before the 17th Amendment was considered to be horribly corrupt, and the industrial titans of the day found it very easy to purchase a state legislature to get the “right people” into the Senate. Repealing the amendment isn’t a great idea.

    As a side observation — many states are the result of post Civil War “gerrymanders” to dilute the power of the South. Frankly, there isn’t a lot of reason for Wyoming or North Dakota or Idaho to be separate states, and, if sttes are supposed to reflect different cultures or semi-nationalities, there is a lot of argument for adjusting state borders. (For example, New York and Pensylvania could easily be divided into two communities. Atlanta is a different state of mind than the rest of Georgia. The “water wars” beteen Georgia and Florida could be solved easily by curring off Florida’s panhandle, and giving it to GA and Alabama.

    Is there a solution? No. Institutional inertia makes even considering the adjustment of state bounderies hugely fraught.

    Appalled (1a17de)

  22. Appalled (1a17de) — 4/29/2022 @ 6:16 am

    . Frankly, there isn’t a lot of reason for Wyoming or North Dakota or Idaho to be separate states,

    And, of course, there was the first one – the great pcket borough of Nevada. (it seems they shouldn;t havve been soo fast to ake alifornia one big state)\

    Nevada now has more people than West Virginia, but it never would have had it not been a pocket borough for over a century.

    Small states (an the limited number of Senators) make for competitive elections and this may be more important than equal populations.

    Sammy Finkelman (b434ee)

  23. I’m usually agreeable with George Will, but not here because (1) Senators grandstand and play politics regardless of their presidential ambitions and (2) only two sitting US Senators have been elected president in the last century, JFK and Obama. For those Senators who believe that the Obama path to the presidency will work, history is not in their favor.

    Paul Montagu (5de684)

  24. “Gosh, how on earth were Senators ever elected before the 17th Amendment was passed?”

    The current system doesn’t guarantee the power we crave, so let’s change the rules again!

    Davethulhu (da3c71)

  25. Oddly enough, Dave, I only ever see your side crying about how horribly “undemocratic” the Senate is, despite the fact that Senators have been elected by popular vote for over a century.

    Factory Working Orphan (fcbf2b)

  26. @25 the popular vote of 18% in 26 states of the population contol 52 senate seats. 82% of the population control 48 senate seats.

    asset (d33c15)

  27. asset, I’m fine with New York picking who Wyoming’s Senators are going to be if you’re fine with Alabama picking California’s Senators.

    Hypotheticals aside, this “a smaller number of people have proportionally more Senators!” has always been sour grapes. If you want more control of the Senate, have a platform that’s not dominated by the pretenses of Megacity One and Megacity Two.

    Factory Working Orphan (fcbf2b)

  28. When AOC mobilizes the Latinx, they will elect the Senators in every state.

    nk (4d03d8)

  29. 26 states with 18% of the population control 52 senate seats. Here is a real problem that needs fixing.

    There is only one provision in the Constitution that CANNOT be amended. Wanna guess which one that is?

    Article V:

    {Amendments may be proposed]… Provided that … no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

    Kevin M (eeb9e9)

  30. Is there a solution? No. Institutional inertia makes even considering the adjustment of state bounderies hugely fraught.

    There would have to be a grand deal, balancing out the immediate consequences. But, given the prohibition on changing Senate representation of states, any move to give big states more say in the Senate would have to proceed as state partitions, which, unlike eliminating equal Senate suffrage, would have clear benefits to the resulting states.

    One of the larger benefits in state “divorces” would be metro areas and rural areas going their separate ways. Both would, I think, see benefits, and the rural areas would see it as “freedom.”

    California is arguably 4 or 5 cultures, depending on whether you think Los Angeles County, with its 10 million+ inhabitants, fits neatly into the rest of Southern California or not.

    Kevin M (eeb9e9)

  31. There is a liberal upside to their lack of power in the Senate due to large states only having 2 votes. The Electoral College.

    To show this, look at California. 54 electoral votes which go to Team D (barring some catastrophe). If you broke CA up into, say North, South and Central CA there is some chance that one of more of those new states would vote for Team R.

    Same with NY, IL, etc. Breaking up big states with large urban centers will distribute their electoral votes, mostly harming Dems.

    Kevin M (eeb9e9)

  32. As far as Russia using nukes, I think that it’s just talk. Not because I think they’re sane, but because if they were willing to go there, they’d be willing to do other things first.

    They’ve also talked about hitting convoys bringing arms into Ukraine, and do so while they are still in NATO territory. And they haven’t. While provocative, I thing nuking Kiev or using battlefield nukes against military basis woold be more so.

    Now, if they DO hit a Polish convoy in Poland, then all bets are off. They probably are anyway.

    Kevin M (eeb9e9)

  33. California is arguably 4 or 5 cultures, depending on whether you think Los Angeles County, with its 10 million+ inhabitants, fits neatly into the rest of Southern California or not.

    Kevin M (eeb9e9) — 4/30/2022 @ 11:03 am

    I’m actually a fan of breaking up the western states along their watersheds, like John Wesley Powell proposed, redoing the river compacts, and rethinking whether a mining-related water law like prior appropriation is really the right system for an arid region.

    Factory Working Orphan (2775f0)

  34. Biden to headline renewed White House Correspondents’ Dinner

    WASHINGTON — President Biden will crack jokes before more than 2,000 guests on Saturday at the revived White House Correspondents’ Dinner as DC’s biggest annual party returns after two years of COVID-19 restrictions.

    Yeah. Should be good for laughs when he re-delivers the inaugural address.

    Of John F. Kennedy’s.

    DCSCA (481e51)

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