Reviews | Amend the Constitution to exclude senators from the presidency


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To retain the respect it needs and deserves, the Constitution should be changed infrequently and reluctantly. There is, however, an amendment that would instantly improve legislative and executive powers. It would read: “No senator or former senator shall be eligible for the presidency.”

Seventeen presidents were formerly senators. Seven of them – Harding, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Obama, Biden – became senators after 1913, when the 17th Amendment removed the selection of senators from state legislatures. The growth of the federal government and national media attention in Washington has increased the notoriety-hungry senators, albeit often with the prominence of a ship – decorative and not functional. As president-centered government has grown, the Senate has declined, becoming more and more the scene of performative behaviors by senators who are less and less interested in legislating and are more and more concerned with the use of social media for their self-promotion.

In Jonathan Haidt’s recent essay for The Atlantic, “Why the Last 10 Years of American Life Have Been Especially Stupid,” the New York University social psychologist argues that social media users in the millions have become at comfortable and able to “put on performances” for foreigners. . So there are too many senators. Haidt says social media arouses “our most moralistic and least thoughtful selves”, fueling the “nervous and explosive spread of anger”.

Founders feared such inducements long before the advent of social media.

Politicians, and especially senators with presidential ambitions and spare time, use social media to practice what Alexander Hamilton lamented (in Federalist 68) as “the little arts of popularity.” These senators, like millions of Americans, use social media to express and incite anger about this and that. anger, like other popular pleasures, can be addictive, especially if it provides the default social media vocabulary.

Today, the horrific possibility of a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024 underscores an error in judgment by Hamilton: He said in Federalist 68 that there is a “constant likelihood” of presidents “preeminent in their abilities and virtues”. Banning senators from the presidency would increase the likelihood of having senators interested in becoming senators, and would increase the likelihood of avoiding:

Presidents who have never run anything larger than a Senate office. Who confused striking poses – on Capitol Hill, on Twitter – with governance. Who have delegated legislative powers to the executive – for example, who have passed sentimental statements disguised as laws: Hooray for education and the environment; the executive branch completes the details.

And who have been comfortable leading the government on ongoing resolutions (at existing funding levels) because Congress is unable to budget. There have been 128 CRs in the last 25 fiscal years — 41 since 2012. Why look for presidents among senators, who have made irresponsibility routine?

The 328 senators of the past 50 years have illustrated the tyranny of the bell curve: some awful, some excellent, some mediocre. Although Josh Hawley, the freshman Republican from Missouri, may not be worse than everything the other 327, he illustrates the worst future presidents incubated in the Senate. Arrived there in January 2019, he set off – away from the Senate. Twenty-four months later, he was the main catalyst for the attempt to cancel the presidential election preceding the one he hopes will elevate him. Climbing nimbly aboard every passing train that can carry him to the Green Room of Fox News, he treats the Senate as merely a springboard for his ascent to an office commensurate with his estimation of his talents.

The constitutional balance of checks and balances depends on a rivalry relationship between the executive branch and the chambers of Congress that are mutually jealous of each other’s powers. “The interest of man must be tied to the constitutional rights of the place”, and the government will be controlled by “this policy of substitution, by opposing and competing interests, for want of better motives” (James Madison, Federalist 51) .

This institutional architecture, however, has been largely tainted by partisan loyalties: congressmen from the president’s party behave like his subordinate teammates; members of the opposing party act as reflexive opponents. This changes the role of the House, whose members are generally less telegenic and more regimented, less than the role of the Senate, which degenerates into an arena of gestures, therefore into an incubator of presidential candidates.

One of today’s exemplary senators, Mitt Romney, surely is in part because, his presidential ambitions withdrawn, he nonetheless wanna to be a senator. If all people with presidential ambitions were deterred from becoming senators, it would likely improve the caliber of senators and presidents, and the balance between political branches.


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