Aristocracy vs Democracy

I was born in Brooklyn and have lived about half my life in New York. As a result, I find statements like this, on Caroline Kennedy’s pursuit of New York’s Senate vacancy, even more offensive than I might were I merely an American citizen.

“It’s a tough thing — you can’t run against the little girl at the funeral,” said an adviser to one of Kennedy’s main rivals, referring to the image of young Caroline at JFK’s interment.

“If she wants it, I don’t see how anyone will stop her.”

I would hope that anyone would stop an aristocrat who has never held nor sought public office from being handed a Senate seat. She is not entitled to it, any more than I am entitled to a date with Angelina Jolie.

America is a democracy that has a very troubled relationship with aristocracies. But recent events make clear that we have a great deal of trouble with the concept of elections. At this moment, four Senate seats will be filled in non-democratic and unaccountable fashions: New York, Illinois, Delaware and Colorado.  It’s possible that more will emerge as President-elect Obama fills his cabinet. In the case of Illinois, there is a real problem as to how the process played out. Corruption emerged as a force precisely because the succession process was not democratic. It may be a well-trod phrase, but there isn’t a problem in a democracy that can’t be solved with more democracy.

Senate seats are too important and too special to be passed around like chips in a poker-patronage game. I think it’s high time that Congress pursue a constitutional amendment requiring special elections to fill all vacated federal elected offices. Enough of the aristocracy’s entitlement. Enough of the corruption. Enough of elite horse trading as a substitute for democratic elections. Let’s have a constitutional amendment that will sort this all out, once and for all.

2 thoughts on “Aristocracy vs Democracy

  1. I agree. The appointment power is a tremendous one for a governor that feels out of place. It has been many many years since senators were chosen by state legislatures. Which is to say, haven’t we already decided direct elections are better? Haven’t we already ruled on whether the senate needs insulation from the People beyond long terms in office?

    My only addition is that an amendment isn’t necessary because a state could always pass a law requiring elections.


  2. Sure but as we see now, we’d need 50 states to pass identical amendments to stop this. In this cycle alone we have at least four different states in need of Senate replacements.

    I’m very curious as to what the substantive federalism arguments are against a constitutional amendment, as opposed to an assertion of the reality that of course states could do this individually on their own.


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