Saturday, August 23, 2008

Thoughts on Biden

My wife, the lovely and gracious Pamela, asked me in exasperation upon hearing this morning's news of the Lord Obama's chosen sidekick, how we have come to the point that a Senator, caught out as a plagiarist, can not only hold his seat but be drafted onto the national presidential ticket? In response, and this is where the graciousness of my wife comes in, I set off on one of my political/constitutional jags that I am wont to descend into upon hearing yet again of developments displeasing to me.

The pompous and egotistical Biden was famously caught channeling not only the spirit, but the very words, of a still living Neil Kinnock, a well known British Laborite/Socialist. His taste in choosing whom to plagiarize aside, the arrogance/stupidity/condescension in thinking his rube audience would not know that the words he spoke were not his own shows that for Biden, the show is all. He must at all times be the smartest man in the room; I feel certain this is a personal rule with him. If he thus has to crib from the speech of another Titan walking the earth, it will just have to be done. So much for his psychological profile.

There are many such cads, rascals, wastrels, and miscreants holding Senate seats--Ted Stevens, anyone? But how can this be so? James Madison clearly expected as much to be true about the House of Reprehensibles, er, Representatives, but counted on the short duration of appointment to keep the aisles clear. The House members were to be on a short leash, answerable to the concerns of a small district within a small part of the nation, and given control of the federal purse strings. The Senate was to be a more august body--"the most important deliberative body in the world", according to their own press releases--and to take up business further removed from the local interests of the farmers and townspeople of the young nation. Longer periods in office and indirect election were to facilitate deliberation of larger issues of politico-historical import, international relations, trade policy, war and peace, and issues impinging on the federal relation of the sovereign states. So what happened between Madison's careful design and today's free-wheeling saloon run by Dusty Harry Reid?

The simple answer is Progressivism. That wanton rebellion by High Modernity types who thought of the Madisonian constitution as a creaking old machine unsuited to the gleaming, fast moving nation state beginning its ascendancy on the world stage. Men such as Herbert Croly, founder of the still existing New Republic magazine, John Dewey and Oliver Wendall Holmes provided the theoretical juice, while Woodrow Wilson, another too smart for his britches swaggerer, flogged the progressive "reforms" the nation needed to go forward. Hence the "progressive" label. Transgressive is more accurate, but that by the by.

The reform most transformative of the Constitution was the 17th, which made the election of the Senate by the direct election of the people. A most democratic reform. Progressives thought more democracy is always better. The purer the better. Let the people decide. Vox populi, etc. Madison had envisioned a "constitutional space", as Harvey Mansfield has termed it, in certain crucial portions of the design. Madison did not have whole-hearted confidence in the people's ability to judge. He thought a nation of people with disparate interests and stations in life ought to have a constitution that takes that into consideration, balancing the wisdom of the few accomplished men of the world with the consent of the many. The life tenure of the federal judiciary was on the side of elevating and securing wisdom, the election by the people of the president "of all the people" by popular vote an important nod to consent. The House of Representatives by direct, popular, vote; the Senate by indirect means varying by state, but usually by the members of the State legislature. Thus a state's two Senate seats were to have been filled through the judicious and wise deliberations of men whose political experience and knowledge of their own state, as well as of the nation, tilted more toward wisdom, while still being tethered to the consent of the people, albeit indirectly.

The 17th Amendment shattered that part of the finely calibrated design. It's as if a tobacco chewing hick were to get his greasy hands on a BMW out back under the shade tree, proceeding to remove parts that don't seem to do anything, then stepping back and congratulating himself on his fine work. We have the BMW of constitutions ladies and gentlemen, designed by a master craftsman, and a bunch of shade tree mechanics coming after jerking on hoses and belts, throwing away funny looking parts, and trying to modify it to suit their juvenile tastes in political machinery. Loud pipes. Flames on the hood. Weird hubcaps.

And that is how a plagiarist like Joe Biden continues in good standing in the highest deliberative body in the world. Progressive wrench twisting made Senate seats available to people-pleasing demagogues, eager to provide "constituent services", once thought the province of only your district representative. Now there is no substantive difference between the upper and lower houses--even that terminology will get a rebuke from your political betters. Joe Biden, like all his colleagues in the Senate, step and fetch like any run of the mill Congressman, and pay close attention to bringing home their share of Federal bacon to their States. Notice the slick campaign literature from your Senators next time they're up for re-election. Anything about the higher purposes of the office? Only blatant braggadocio about what pork he has served up to you, his faithful supporter. Exactly what Madison intended to avoid. Biden does for Delaware what a new member in his seat could not do so easily or effectively--steer massive amounts of Federal largess to the bank accounts of as many voters as possible.

And thus a dishonorable action like plagiarism is not a career ending moral failure, but a mere embarrassment to be joked away. Caught stealing the thoughts of another and portraying them as your own? Hate it when that happens.

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