Thursday, December 11, 2008

From Buying Elections to By-Elections

The thread that connects the Caroline Kennedy boomlet in New York State and Rod Blagojevich’s simony in Illinois (to which one might connect Delaware’s governor’s decision to name a warm body to keep Joe Biden’s senate seat warm until his son is ready to run for it) is obvious-- governors ought not to be selecting US Senators. US Senators should be popularly elected, as the 17th amendment mandates. (Perhaps this was the best of all progressive reforms.) There is talk of the expense of new state wide elections as a reason for gubernatorial selection, but this is an obvious smokescreen—there is nothing that American politics and politicians abhor more than a free, unplanned election, where candidates can rush to run, and the usual, laboriously elongated and attenuated election process gets condensed to a glorious month or two. The worst thing about American politics is its utter calendrical predictability, so the election day can be approached and prepared for years in advance, so that by the time the actual election day rolls around, most voters have been hectored into submission, their choices limited usually to lesser evil A or greater evil B. Snap elections are as close to Athenian-agora type democracy as we get in this country. In parliamentary democracies, they have by-elections all the time; in this country unplanned elections are kept to the absolutely unavoidable minimum. Gubernatorial selection rather than popular election is bad all around. It was running for senator that gave the Illinoisian-Arkansan first lady her legitimacy as a US Senator from New York; the same would do wonders for Caroline Kennedy as well. Anyway, I hope the question of the US Senator from New York is cleared up soon, so we can turn our attention to that other paragon of democracy, the New York State Senate.


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