Opinion

OUR CORNER: Tea Partiers make season interesting

By Brian Beckley

Staff writer

It’s fairly well documented that I don’t think particularly highly of the Tea Party Movement.

I believe the exact phrase I used was “Generally speaking, the Tea Partiers are a bunch of angry, ill-informed loudmouths whose inconsistency on their own positions and total ignorance of government, history and the Constitution makes them impossible to take seriously.”

I stand by that, though I would add “pretty much” (or some other qualifier) before “impossible.”

But I also said that the Tea Party, no matter what else, has certainly led more and more people to get involved in politics, many of whom have never done so before (including, for example, the nice woman I talked to after a recent Bonney Lake City Council meeting and many other fine, rational individuals).

I honestly like that. The more, the merrier. And the better for democracy.

But yes, in general I find the Tea Party to be made up of ill-informed loudmouths who don’t understand nearly as much about history and the Constitution as they think they do. Most don’t even seem to understand what the original Boston Tea Party was about and don’t seem to care.

But that’s not to say that there are not some interesting and worthy ideas coming from their ranks. I don’t agree with a lot of their platform, though there is some common ground. For example, I too want my government to be as small as possible, though I don’t necessarily think doing away with the Department of Energy and Department of Education is a good idea.

One fascinating philosophical point raised by the Tea Party Movement is the drive to repeal the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.

Passed during the Progressive Reforms of the early 20th Century, the 17th Amendment guarantees the direct election of senators.

Originally, the Constitution left the election of senators to the state legislatures. The people had no real say over the two members of the Senate that represented their state.

This was done for a couple of reasons, including the belief that while an unqualified candidate might be able to fool the people into voting for them, a legislature would not be so gullible. It was also thought that giving that power to the legislature would allow the senator to focus on governing instead of campaigning for re-election.

The legislature method worked well enough for a while, but soon after the Civil War, things started going downhill and there were several bribery charges and deadlocks in the states and all sorts of issues.

So, in 1913, an amendment was adopted giving the people direct control over their senators.

This has worked pretty well since. Except that, yes, senators do seem to spend more time campaigning than governing sometimes.

This year, the Tea Party is re-visiting the issue and they make a decent case.

The idea is that in our federal republic the states have no say in federal laws. While the people have a say, the states themselves must simply do what Congress says, which leads to the possibility of unfunded federal mandates.

The big push for this, I think, springs out of opposition to the new health care law and the crux is that if the state legislatures had a say, that law would not have been passed as is because of the burden it puts on the states.

I am not entirely sure about the validity of the specific claim, but the concept is a fascinating one from a political science standpoint: Should state governments have a say in federal legislation they are forced to live by?

It’s the kind of question that really gets to the heart of our federal republic in which the states are supposed to (and in some issues do) retain a level of sovereignty.

I’ll be honest with you here, I am not sure how I feel about this one (and that’s not like me). Generally, I think it’s better that I have a say over who represents me in the Senate. And I really don’t like the idea of leaving that decision to Olympia, something I imagine any Republican would also agree with since there would be no way anyone except a Democrat would be chosen by our legislature.

At least with direct elections, a guy like Dino Rossi has a shot.

But at the same time, I can’t help but think that the Tea Partiers are right about the fact that if the state governments had a say, there would be less unfunded mandates placed on state government by folks in the other Washington.

I tend to lean toward direct election as I like my democracy as direct as possible, but we have made this the Question of the Week on our Web site; we’re hoping to hear from readers their thoughts on this issue.

So here’s to the Tea Party for at least making us think about government in these terms again. They may ultimately end up doing more harm than good (especially to their causes), but the new energy they have infused into the political process is certainly invigorating.

No matter what side you might be on.

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