Friday, April 14, 2017

Understand First, Write Later

Philip Bump writes for the Washington Post, which probably says everything you ever need to know about Philip Bump, and more.

Jay Sutton writes once in a while for this column, which means he has a lot more common sense than, and comparable ability to, 99% of those who write for the Washington Post.  He also occasionally points out oddities that might prompt columns for me to do and, knowing that I'm pretty religious about doing this every day, I appreciate the motivation.

So it was not a surprise last week when he pointed out to me the column written by Mr. Bump and suggested that its point was so fallacious that it needed to be laughed at.

In essence, Bump went off on the concept that because the distribution of the Senate was two votes per state, and the Electoral College was based on a combination of the population-based apportionment of the House and the state-based apportionment of the Senate, that sort of thing (I know you know what I mean), that the Senate was becoming "like the Electoral College."

In other words, laws were passed through the Senate even though the senators who voted "aye" represented less than 50% of the population of the nation.  At least that was his point and, like most points raised in the Post, it was underpinned by a fallacy.

I almost feel silly writing this.  In fact, when Jay sent it to me and I read the article, I wrote him back immediately -- "Obviously interesting, but if I do a piece it would have to be about there being an article in the first place.  The points are just such a red herring and unjustified."  Anyone who got a D or better in high-school Civics knows why.

The two-house ("bicameral") legislature was one of many compromises by the Founding Fathers to balance the concept of a democracy with the notion of the nation being a federation of states with some level of their independence.  But on top of that, the Senate was different -- the House was elected by the people directly; the Senate was appointed by the State legislatures.

In other words, the senators represented the interest of the States as directed by their legislatures, not directly by the people of the State.  One can argue that the 17th Amendment in 1913 was a tragic corruption of the Framers' intent to distinguish the two houses of Congress, and that the amendment diminished the power of the States by eliminating their legislatures' Constitutionally-granted role in the administration of the Federal government.

So back to the Bump.  You can write for days about what percentage of the voting public is thought to have been "represented" by votes for and against this or that bill, as Bump tried to do.  But even to argue that is to ignore the reason for the institution of the Senate in the first place.  The "world's greatest deliberative body" may be a screwed-up place right now (though not as bad as when under the bizarre rule of Harry Reid), but it is the States' house, the one where Wyoming is as powerful as New York.

It was designed that way.  It is a check on the otherwise unchecked power of the urban areas, and was effectively the reason that the 2016 presidential campaigns didn't spent a red cent in California.  [Side note -- the "Hillary won the election" types never note that the margin of her popular-vote lead came from five counties in California, a state where Donald Trump never campaigned]

If Philip Bump's wandering mind was making mathematical nonsense about the relative proportions of the population allegedly "represented" in votes on laws, well, it probably says a lot more about the Washington Post for putting forth such historically ignorant content in a paper that was once great enough for John Philip Sousa to name a march for it.

They're just marching off to irrelevance now.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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