Chris Dodd on the Senate

Departing Senator Chris Dodd did a farewell speech yesterday in which he made the case against Senate reform. This section of the address serves, however, to illustrate how weak the case is:

We one hundred Senators are but temporary stewards of a unique American institution, founded upon universal principles. The Senate was designed to be different, not simply for the sake of variety, but because the framers believed the Senate could and should be the venue in which statesmen would lift America up to meet its unique challenges.

As a Senator from the State of Connecticut—and the longest serving one in its history—I take special pride in the role two Connecticut Yankees played in the establishment of this body.

It was Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth, delegates from Connecticut to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 who proposed the idea of a bicameral national legislature.

This starts with the idea that the Senate was designed for some incredibly noble and high-minded reason. But it concludes with the real reason—some states, Connecticut among them, wanted to create a mechanism whereby their interests would be over-weighted relative to the interests of large states like Virginia. So a hard-nosed political bargain was struck, and the result was a politically feasible path to a set of institutional arrangements that were superior to the Articles of Confederation than proceeded them.

And this is precisely the spirit in which reform should proceed. You start with a desire for a fairer and more efficacious system, you blend that with the willingness to drive some hard-nosed bargains, and you add in a dash of creative thinking. Jeff Merkley’s modest reform idea seems to me to be in that spirit.