David Firestone, in an op-ed for The New York Times, notes for us that the 17th Amendment was added to the Constitution in 1913 and provided "for the direct popular election" of U.S. senators. Before the amendment was adopted, state legislatures, "filled with men of property and stature," chose senators, Firestone writes.
Beyond some Tea Partiers, is there a groundswell of support for dumping the 17th Amendment and allowing state legislatures to select senators?
As Firestone notes, "A modern appreciation of democracy - not to mention a clear-eyed appraisal of today's dysfunctional state legislatures - should make the idea unthinkable. But many Tea Party members and their political candidates are thinking it anyway, convinced that returning to the pre-17th Amendment system would reduce the power of the federal government and enhance state rights."
It may be true that appointed senators, accountable only to state legislators, would never approve of many useful federal mandates designed to put the national interest above local parochialism - including everything from the minimum wage to the new health care reform law.
Not enough Americans vote. But, fortunately, almost all like the idea that they can, a thoroughly modern sentiment that will confine this elitist notion to the fringes. That means Tea Partiers who are infuriated by the health care law and everything else now going on in Washington can no longer look to James Madison for a bailout. Their best remedy is the one they seem to spurn: a vote at the ballot box.