Close The Road From Senate To Oval Office?

There are a few conservative journalists who speak with a rational, intellectual voice and George Will is among them.  He left the Republican Party in 2016, for reasons that should be obvious to us all.  In his latest piece, he suggests we need a constitutional amendment to bar senators from ever running for president.  I’m not sure that I agree completely with him, for if our presidents don’t come from the Senate, then where?  But, he makes some valid and interesting points, and it does often seem that members of Congress spend more time campaigning for their next job than they spend doing their current job. Take a look and see what you think …

Amend the Constitution to bar senators from the presidency

By George F. Will, 27 April 2022

To conserve the reverence it needs and deserves, the Constitution should be amended rarely and reluctantly. There is, however, an amendment that would instantly improve the legislative and executive branches. It would read: “No senator or former senator shall be eligible to be president.”

Seventeen presidents were previously senators. Seven of them – Harding, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Obama, Biden — became senators after 1913, when the 17th Amendment took the selection of senators away from state legislatures. The federal government’s growth, and the national media’s focus on Washington, has increased the prominence of senators eager for prominence, although it often is the prominence of a ship’s figurehead — decorative, not functional. As president-centric government has waxed, the Senate has waned, becoming increasingly a theater of performative behaviors by senators who are decreasingly interested in legislating, and are increasingly preoccupied with using social media for self-promotion.

In Jonathan Haidt’s recent essay for the Atlantic, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” the New York University social psychologist says social media users by the millions have become comfortable and adept at “putting on performances” for strangers. So have too many senators. Haidt says social media elicits “our most moralistic and least reflective selves,” fueling the “twitchy and explosive spread of anger.”

The Founders feared such incitements, long before social media arrived.

Politicians, and especially senators with presidential ambitions and time on their hands, use social media to practice what Alexander Hamilton deplored (in Federalist 68) as “the little arts of popularity.” Such senators, like millions of Americans, use social media to express and encourage anger about this and that. Anger, like other popular pleasures, can be addictive, particularly if it supplies the default vocabulary for social media.

Today, the gruesome possibility of a 2024 Biden-Trump rematch underscores a Hamilton misjudgment: He said in Federalist 68 there is a “constant probability” of presidents “pre-eminent for ability and virtue.” Banning senators from the presidency would increase the probability of having senators who are interested in being senators, and would increase the probability of avoiding:

Presidents who have never run anything larger than a Senate office. Who have confused striking poses — in the Capitol, on Twitter — with governing. Who have delegated legislative powers to the executive — for example, who have passed sentiment-affirmations masquerading as laws: Hurray for education and the environment; the executive branch shall fill in the details.

And who have been comfortable running the government on continuing resolutions (at existing funding levels) because Congress is incapable of budgeting. There have been 128 CRs in the previous 25 fiscal years — 41 since 2012. Why look for presidents among senators, who have made irresponsibility routine?

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee debate on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court on April 4. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The 328 senators of the previous 50 years have illustrated the tyranny of the bell-shaped curve: a few of them dreadful, a few excellent, most mediocre. Although Josh Hawley, Missouri’s freshman Republican, might not be worse than all the other 327, he exemplifies the worst about would-be presidents incubated in the Senate. Arriving there in January 2019, he hit the ground running — away from the Senate. Twenty-four months later, he was the principal catalyst of the attempted nullification of the presidential election preceding the one that he hopes will elevate him. Nimbly clambering aboard every passing bandwagon that can carry him to the Fox News greenroom, he treats the Senate as a mere steppingstone for his ascent to an office commensurate with his estimate of his talents.

The constitutional equilibrium of checks and balances depends on a rivalrous relationship between the executive branch and houses of Congress that are mutually jealous of their powers. “The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place,” and government will be controlled by “this policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives” (James Madison, Federalist 51).

This institutional architecture has, however, been largely vitiated by party loyalties: Congressional members of the president’s party behave as his subservient teammates; members of the opposing party act as reflexive opposers. This changes the role of the House, whose members are generally not so telegenic and are more regimented, less than it does the role of the Senate, which degenerates into an arena of gestures, hence an incubator of would-be presidents.

One of today’s exemplary senators, Mitt Romney, surely is such partly because, his presidential ambitions retired, he nevertheless wants to be a senator. Were all persons with presidential ambitions deterred from becoming senators, this probably would improve the caliber of senators, and of presidents, and the equilibrium between the political branches.

32 thoughts on “Close The Road From Senate To Oval Office?

  1. Democracy is a messy, chaotic business. And throughout its history there is always this belief that the current system is ‘Not Working’. This would seem to be based on the amount of dissatisfaction levelled at those elected to the governmental process as a whole (ie in Govt and those in Opposition).
    The fact is that those people reached their position through ‘a ballot box’. Now we can all point a finger at the failings of the process (We have many fingers pointing after the 2019 General Election.) The Problem being a lot of folk wanted those people ‘in’ and we have discussed over the years why that was so.
    Any attempt to change your system with an over consensus will be met with a violent backlash, and sadly not a wholly verbal one either.
    The battle has to be won with the system you have. It will require those tougher. fiery folk who care about the USA as a whole to be voted in. It will be tough and it will be dirty. No less that the destruction of the MAGA movement as a viable political folk and the discrediting of those who made it to Washington on its votes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure you’re probably right … heck, just getting an amendment through to give women the right to vote or something equally non-threatening takes much time and effort. But, the Constitution was drafted with the intent that it would be a ‘living, breathing’ document, not one that would never be changed even when the circumstances of life change. Take, for one example, the 2nd Amendment. At the time, muskets were the most lethal ‘arms’ the Founders knew … in their wildest dreams, they could not have imagined an AR-15 that can kill a hundred people in just a minute or two. Nor could they have imagined parents giving their children guns to take to school. If they had conceived of any of this, I doubt there would have been a 2nd Amendment. But you are right … the way things are today, we could not possibly reach a consensus about even the slightest change, let alone any major alterations. Sigh. And so … we will wait until an autocrat takes office, burns the Constitution, and declares democracy dead.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tries to take office Jill. From all political directions they’d have insurrections, strikes, civil disobedience, gang crime lords, militias, mutinies within the armed forces, by pass the Ulster scenario and straight to Lebanon 1980s. Then a group of armed forces and security folk will decide stability is need, and out goes The Autocrat, while the chaos goes on.
        Despite the efforts of Novelists and Screen Writers… ‘It Don’t Work That Way’

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        • I dunno, my friend. Seems to me that Trump nearly succeeded and if he had been re-elected, or if the coup attempt had succeeded, he might well be following the playbook of Viktor Orbán today. Possibly the military would have intervened, but there are some in the ranks who were … and still are … big Trump supporters. And now, DeSantis is in the picture and he might be even worse, for he is every bit as much a bigot and an egomaniac as Trump, but he is also much more intelligent than Trump. Sure, We the People would be protesting vigorously, but … an autocrat just has us locked up … or shot. Perhaps I’m giving the people of this nation too little credit, but of late I haven’t been very impressed with the people’s ability to think clearly and wisely. Sigh.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I’ll give you a quote from James Baldwin Jill:
            “The most dangerous creation of any society is a man who has nothing to lose,”
            They may gain the Whitehouse, They may gain the Senate and Congress. They will do it by trickery and intimidation.
            And they think then everyone will accept what they have done; which they, by the way, did not accept and that was an honest process. Then they are bigger fools than I ever thought possible back in 2016.
            It won’t just be protests Jill, it won’t be just riots. It’ll start scattered, random; there will be random retaliation and then you are on the road to para militaries on both sides.
            As I say often; we in the UK saw it close up between 1967 & 1994.
            Sorry if it sounds alarmist and I’ve been keeping it under my wraps for two years now. But I believe the topic is now hitting the US book shelves.

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  2. Pingback: Don’t Burn it — FIX IT! | Filosofa's Word

      • I’ve been thinking about this, and I believe that the better fix to the problem is term limits. First, if Senators (and Congresspersons) go lame duck after a couple or few terms, they won’t be beholden to the President. If you think about Trump’s influence, every single GOP senator or congressperson that was retiring called him a shithead, while all of those still trying to retain their jobs lined up behind his ass (minus three individuals that can afford it politically). If fully a third of the congress was lame duck at any given time, they would not be beholden to POTUS and could legislate independently, or in the best interest of their state or the constitution. Second, cutting the Senate-President pathway does not change the grandstanding, hypocricy, and sucking up, and you need look no further than Moscow Mitch to see that in action. Third, term limits provide lots of other benefits, the largest is a decrease in pork spending. Pork increases dramatically after the second term. And finally, I think having a POTUS with previous Senate experience is useful, and would hate to cut that just because the political parties have created an abomination. Thoughts?

        Liked by 1 person

        • You make a really good argument for term limits with several valid points! And you’re right … even this year, some, such as Kinzinger and Portman, who cannot abide what the Republican Party has become are retiring rather than stay in the fray. Now, if we could combine term limits with reversing the Supreme Court’s huge mistake in Citizens United v FEC … we might have a heck of a lot more accountability throughout Congress! And yes, I agree that a president with Senate experience is preferable … I cannot think of another venue that provides as much experience. Some claim a governorship is comparable, but looking around at many of today’s governors (thinking of DeSantis & Abbott here), I’m not convinced.

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    • George Will is actually one of the few conservative writers, along with David Brooks, who sometimes makes sense! As re the Senate … there are times I would agree with you!


    • Hmmmm … maybe. It seems that these days most anything can be twisted to suit an ideology. But it is true that sometimes people enter the Senate with the intention of using it as a stepping stone to the higher office, and that makes me wonder if they’re even bothering to represent us, or merely telling us what they think we want to hear in order to gain votes? xx


  3. Pingback: CLOSE THE ROAD FROM SENATE TO OVAL OFFICE. | | Ramblings of an Occupy Liberal

  4. I start to wonder if “career” politicians no matter their political flavour are still the solution. Maybe we all have to take more responsibility and bring the level down to deliberative democracy and citizens assemblies. I still don’t know enough about them to see if they could be a widespread solution for governing countries but I’ve heard of many good examples. This link from Switzerland explains some of the forms they have taken: and this Irish link explains deliberative democracy
    I am not sure how the negative influences of social media can be avoided in these forms of democracy but my instincts tell me that representative democracy might have had its time and has to go. But if we are ready to take that responsibility is a whole other topic to discuss 🤗

    Liked by 3 people

    • THANK YOU, Bee!!! Very interesting articles and now I find I want to learn more about ‘deliberative democracy’. I will be doing some delving into it this weekend … who knows, you might see it in a post here soon. What we are doing now isn’t working well, because there are too many avenues of corruption, most involving money and power. Yes, we have a voice, but it is only in the form of our vote. We can write to our members of Congress, but it’s doubtful they see more than a handful of our letters, as mine are usually answered by a standard form letter, else by an assistant.

      I’ll do some research … this is definitely an interesting concept. Thanks! Hugs, Sweet Bee!


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