Home > Annie Lowrey, Foreign Policy Magazine, Leftism, Washington Post > “What if senators represented people by income or race, not by state?”

“What if senators represented people by income or race, not by state?”

This column from today’s Washington Post highlights perfectly the prism through which the left sees the world. According to them, people are nothing more or less than economic animals, defined solely by their income — or, more important than absolute income, by how much people earn relative to everyone else. And their government’s success or failure hinges largely on how effectively it takes stuff from those who earn more and distributes it to those who earn less — or not even that: how it distributes this income to those we want to have it for reasons altogether unrelated to economics. Maybe we just feel bad for what people in a protected group have suffered, so hey, take someone else’s money and give it to ’em.

The author argues that there might be a better way to elect senators, if our goal — as she suggests — is to more effectively redistribute wealth and protect rights (or create them out of thin air, such as the right not only to an abortion, which is defensible, but to an abortion paid for by someone else, which most certainly is not). Her idea, whether offered sincerely or as a clever commentary, is, no matter how she meant it, pure nonsense and would undoubtedly accelerate America’s decline.

This is an important read for those looking for a window into the facile mind of today’s American liberal. Because it’s liberals, folks — not conservatives — who see the world in color, who judge and categorize and stereotype. Liberals — not conservatives — see people of this nation as an unfortunately bound federation of some sort … not of states, but of primal tribes: everyone defined not by the humanity he shares with his neighbor, but instead by that which makes him and his neighbor different. You’re black? Stand over there — those are the people who will protect you, and these are the policies you’ll support. And you — you’re a woman? You’ll stand over here — these are your defenders, and here’s the list of policies you’ll support. You’re black and rich? Over there, sorta, but behind the poor blacks — those are your kind. You’re Mexican, poor and gay? Over here, but not so close — somewhere between here and there. (Yes, our tribes are shaping up nicely!) You’re Asian, gay, rich, and Mormon? Hmm. Let’s see where we put this poor, white Jewish atheist first; then we’ll know what to do with you.

It’s sick; it’s wrong; it’s primal; it’s tribal; it’s barbaric. It’s all these things. But always — always — remember it comes from the mind of a liberal, not the mind of a conservative. Anyway, here’s the most brilliant article on how to divide this nation further:

What if senators represented people by income or race, not by state?
By Annie Lowrey
Sunday, February 7, 2010; B05

On Wednesday, President Obama joined Senate Democrats at their retreat, urging them to “finish the job” on health-care reform “even though it’s hard.”

That crowd knows how hard it can be. To get the 60 votes needed to pass the health-care bill last Christmas Eve, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid worked furiously. The final holdout was Ben Nelson, a centrist Democrat from Nebraska. With time running out, Reid offered to have the federal government pay for the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program in perpetuity — and Nelson signed on to the bill.

Members of both parties were vociferous in criticizing the “Cornhusker kickback,” as it came to be known. “That’s not change we can believe in!” crowed Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “That is the worst in politics.”

He’s right about one thing: That wasn’t change. It was a type of deal as old as the Senate itself. Back in the summer of 1787, the founders debated how to structure the legislature. James Madison, of the large state of Virginia, drafted a plan for a bicameral parliament, with both chambers apportioned by population. William Paterson, of the smaller state of New Jersey, called for a single house. In July, they compromised: two houses, one proportionate to population and one with two representatives per state.

The Great Compromise was intended to make sure the big states didn’t trample the little guys. But today, with 37 more states on the scene, the little ones wield disproportionate power. “Half of the population of the nation lives in 10 states, which have 20 senators. The other half lives in 40 states that have 80 senators,” says the official Senate historian, Donald Ritchie. Small states and states whose representatives might tip the balance on a key vote make out like bandits, as their senators demand outsize appropriations in return for their support. The Nelson fracas was nothing other than the Senate working exactly as it was designed to.

But what if the 100-member Senate were designed to mirror the overall U.S. population — and were based on statistics rather than state lines?

Imagine a chamber in which senators were elected by different income brackets — with two senators representing the poorest 2 percent of the electorate, two senators representing the richest 2 percent and so on.

Based on Census Bureau data, five senators would represent Americans earning between $100,000 and $1 million individually per year, with a single senator working on behalf of the millionaires (technically, it would be two-tenths of a senator). Eight senators would represent Americans with no income. Sixteen would represent Americans who make less than $10,000 a year, an amount well below the federal poverty line for families. The bulk of the senators would work on behalf of the middle class, with 34 representing Americans making $30,000 to $80,000 per year.

Imagine trying to convince someone — Michael Bloomberg, perhaps? — to be the lonely senator representing the richest percentile. And what if the senators were apportioned according to jobs figures? This year, the unemployed would have gained two seats. Think of the deals that would be made to attract that bloc!

Or how about if senators represented particular demographic groups, based on gender and race? White women would elect the biggest group of senators — 37 of them, though only 38 women have ever served in the Senate, with 17 currently in office. White men would have 36 seats. Black women, Hispanic women and Hispanic men would have six each; black men five; and Asian women and men two each. Women voters would control a steady and permanent majority — making, say, discriminatory health-care measures such as the Stupak Amendment and the horrible dearth of child-care options for working mothers seem untenable.

What about a Senate in which voters cast ballots for candidates campaigning to win over a certain age group? Thirteen senators would vie for 18-to-24-year-olds, who strongly support measures such as the cap-and-trade climate bill and marriage rights for gays. Nearly all of these senators would be Democrats. Americans over 65 would control 16 seats — and would be mostly Republicans interested in protecting Medicare and the broader status quo. The baby boomer bubble would be largely in the eldest category, though its stragglers would round out the segment of voters, probably split between the parties, that is edging up on retirement. Thirty-six senators would serve 25-to-44-year-olds, and 35 senators 45-to-64-year-olds — and would be likely to push the very issues now on the table, including health care, entitlement viability and tax breaks for the middle class.

However you slice it (or us), a new voting model would shake up the Senate’s agenda. A senator vying for the $60,000 bracket — filled with working parents concerned with putting children through school — might need to promise Pell Grant reform and improved school lunches. One can imagine a coalition of senators for the elderly and senators for 20-somethings working to loosen federal laws around medical marijuana.

These deals, of course, would be very different from the deal Ben Nelson cut for Nebraska. But they highlight a truth so obvious it isn’t often examined: Senators represent states. And states’ priorities can seem strange when viewed in a national light. The Great Compromise promised just the kind of last-minute deal that Nelson struck, ensuring that the needs of his small state were recognized in the nationwide initiative.

These days, people don’t much like the anti-democratic structure of the Senate and the bring-home-the-bacon politics it begets. Recent polls have shown that Americans despise the upper chamber — more than the House, more than the White House. But you can’t blame Nelson for doing exactly what the founders asked him to do.

annie.lowrey@foreignpolicy.com

Annie Lowrey is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy magazine.

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