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Writing in The New York Times on Monday, November 3, 2014, from Durham, North Carolina, Professor David Schanzer and his student Jay Sullivan suggest that, by U.S. Constitutional amendment, the country should eliminate midterm elections. Instead, they suggest, Congressional representatives and Senators alike should hold four- or eight-year terms coincident with the President’s and be elected only when American voters also elect a U. S. President.
While at the time of the nation’s founding “it was important for at least one body of Congress to be closely accountable to the people,” Professor Schanzer and his undergraduate student argue, that is no longer the case.
Their reasoning – if you can call it that – is that elections come too often, they cost too much money, they “weaken the president, the only government official [worth mentioning] elected by the entire nation,” and – last but not least – the electorate in midterm elections tends to be “whiter, wealthier, older and more educated” than the electorate during presidential elections.
That last reason alone ought to be enough to reject the Durham duo’s suggestion: as Jay Leno might say, if the nation were to let its national policy be decided only by younger, less-educated, and less wealthy citizens with less at stake – say, college students, for example – what could possibly go wrong? (Obamacare, to name but one thing.)
The fact that Duke University is famously the home of frat boys with the poor judgment to hire professional strippers to entertain them and at least one undergraduate who pays her inflated tuition by performing in pornographic movies, we trust, are just unfortunate coincidences.
But there’s a reason that the late William F. Buckley, Jr. once wrote that he’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University. Professors (and their students) in their ivory towers are very fond of pontificating about things that make no sense out here in the real world. (Although, to be sure, on the practical side this week Harvard is offering a workshop on how to have anal sex.)
The real reasons for rejecting the absurd proposal that the electorate have less say in their government go to the heart of a constitutional republic. The very design of the U. S. Constitution, explicit in its first three words, is that “we the People” are sovereign and intended to govern. And it’s likely not coincidence that the first-designated house of the first-designated branch of government is the people’s house, the House of Representatives. (The Senate, in contrast, was designed to represent the States, not the people, and to be selected by the state legislatures. Changing that, too, was a mistake.)
Surely the founders “would not be pleased with the dysfunction, partisan acrimony and public dissatisfaction that plague modern politics,” say the Duke authors, who have apparently never read The Federalist Papers. The purpose of the U. S. Constitution is to put limits on national government power, not to embolden it. It’s for that very reason that the powers of the federal government – legislative, executive, and judicial, enumerated in that order – are divided among three separate but co-equal branches, each of which is supposed to check and to balance the other. If the Founders had wanted another king, then they would have created a monarchy, not a constitutional republic.
If the good professor and his student don’t think it’s worth their while to vote in midterm elections, then by all means let’s not discourage them. They can always put on their beer goggles and go to a fraternity party instead.