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U.S. senator accidentally argues for abolition of the Senate

By: Patrick Healy, Assistant Opinion Editor

The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would make most of the District of Columbia into a state. Conservatives claim that liberals want to pack the Senate to hold onto power, yet refuse to acknowledge that they only support the Senate because it gives themselves undue power. Democrats would be better off just abolishing the Senate — which the GOP refuses to do, since they know they are the ones who benefit from it.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton is like Pinnochio, except the only thing that grows when he lies is his chance to win the 2024 GOP nomination. It seems he was angling to contribute to our MUD edition — the one where we spew gibberish and make up nonsense — when he penned a 2020 speech arguing against D.C. statehood. I come back to it every time D.C. statehood is in the news or when I’m feeling bad about my own writing.

According to Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, by 2040, 30% of Americans will elect 70 senators; 70% will elect just 30 senators. Because small states are predominately white, and usually conservative, this trend favors Republicans. Democrats accrued tens of millions more votes for the Senate than Republicans yet barely possess a 50-50 majority with the vice president (which they have despite another conserivative-biased institution, the Electoral College) as a tiebreaker.

If equality means equality between states, why don’t states split evenly the cost of running the federal government? Wyomingites are fine with 67 times more representation than California in the Senate, but they don’t want to pay 67 times more? Curious.

Sen. Cotton suggests that D.C. could “easily” be “retroceded” to Maryland. Unless we’re reading different Constitutions (entirely possible, given his stance on the First Amendment), Maryland would need to approve the merger. That’s roughly as likely as Amherst agreeing to merge with Buffalo. Democratic leaders in Maryland don’t want to compete with those of D.C., and Republicans definitely don’t want more Democratic voters. Plus, D.C. is poor and wouldn’t contribute much to the tax base.

Grasping at straws, Cotton says that D.C. can’t be a state because it’s opposed by a majority of Americans. Welcome, Comrade Cotton, to the revolution! It’s a strange thing, citing polls that treat Americans equally regardless of where they live, to defend a system that does precisely the opposite. Unlike the upper house of the U.S. Congress, I guess Gallup didn’t see fit to give Wyoming residents 67 times the weight of Californians. I wonder, did they exclude D.C. residents from their poll? Puerto Ricans?

He rails against giving “the 55,000 residents of American Samoa” the same weight as the 600,000 citizens of Wyoming since it’s 11 times smaller. He apparently thinks 11 is smaller than 67, which is how many times more populous California is than Wyoming. He either agrees with me that different-sized states shouldn’t get the same voting weight, or should really advocate for more investment in public schooling. Either way, his argument supports Democratic policies.

The Senator was a captain in the Army, but his remarks on Democrats’ motivations demand an immediate promotion to four-star General Obvious. Detective Cotton takes 2,500 words to sniff out the Democrats’ evil machinations: this is a power grab! Having not read the Constitution, his ignorance of every political thinker ever is understandable. I’ll summarize for him: politics has always been about the division of power. We fought a little war over the difference between a monarchy and republic.

Of course, the Arkansan Aristotle has great reverence for history and logic. He’s but a humble servant of the Constitution, interpreting James Madison to rank “seafood … missile-defense systems ... mining, logging, and construction” as more suffrage-worthy occupations than “bureaucrats and other white-collar professionals.” Wyoming, 93% white, is a “well-rounded, working-class state.” D.C., 46% white, is regrettably less diverse.

Not only does he promulgate the classic defense of the Senate — small states need a leg up to defend against the urban liberal mob — but he devises another distinction. Based on his bizarre claim that a D.C. would not make for a “well-rounded, working-class state,” he argues that certain occupations (i.e. rural ones) should be weighted more. Not to benefit the Republican base, but to honor the Founding Fathers, two strata should be considered when determining how much a vote should count: location and vocation.

His obsession with linking occupation to the right to vote isn’t novel; if he wants to go back to property qualifications for voting, he should just say so. I have no idea how he wants the government to distribute the franchise. Should it have an assessor on hand to inspect every voter and give 10 points to lumberjacks, 5 to fishermen, and 0 to cashiers, with bonus points if you live in an area with more cows than humans? For someone so against bureaucrats' suffrage, he’s dangerously close to advocating for red tape.

Cotton tries to perform mental gymnastics to disenfranchise D.C. residents for not being as “working-class” as Wyomingites, but he fails; D.C. has a higher percentage of adults participating in the labor force (70%) than Wyoming (66%). For his second act, he cites D.C.’s reliance on federal funding as another reason to disenfranchise them.

Maybe if he was a politician or something he would know that states with “a handful of massive, liberal cities” are actually the biggest donors, and conservative states like Arkansas rely the most on federal funding. Despite their fiscal disadvantage, Democrats don’t use taxes and funding to advocate for the disenfranchisement of conservative areas.

New York, home to the biggest urban mob, is by far the biggest donor state and would benefit greatly from a fairer system. If Democrats really were true power grabbers, they’d love to apply Cotton’s own occupation- and funding-based poll test — it’d disenfranchise Republicans!

It’s not a surprise that Cotton wants to disenfranchise capital regions - Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas, was one of only three Arkansas counties to vote against him in 2020, and by the largest margin to boot. If they’d counted counties instead of people, he’d have won 72-3. As he would say, I shouldn’t “give him any bright ideas.”

Cotton thinks he’s practicing for the Supreme Court when he presents damning hypotheticals such as, “Should [U.S. territories] get two senators, as well?” I have to admit he must have been a pretty good basketball player, because that’s a beautiful assist for the Democrats’ central argument. The answer to his question is a definitive yes — a slam dunk — and he gets straight to the problem with the Senate; it treats territory, not people, equally.

Republicans can’t use the Senate’s land-based structure — which they could change — to argue that the Constitution, not they, disenfranchise the territories. That’s an artificial problem that only exists because they allow it to. If we have to play the silly Senate game, then he can’t complain when the Democrats play by the rules.

Cotton argues that shrinking the district to only the Capitol, White House and other strictly government buildings would give the “Swamp” even more power because D.C. receives 3 votes in the electoral college via the Twenty-Third Amendment. Yet again, he ignores Republicans’ own ability to stop this problem. The DC Admission Act calls for a repeal of the amendment. Republicans could either follow Cotton and continue to use this artificial problem in place of real arguments, or they could just work with Democrats to fix it.

The Democrats are “angry that they don't win every election under the current rules. So they want to change the rules.” Of course they want to change the rules. Democrats don’t need to rig elections toward any group. All they need is to make them fair. Because if elections were fair, with everybody able to vote and every vote counted equally, Democrats would win every election by virtue of their being the significantly more populous party. Republicans would have to shift to the left to compete, which evidently isn’t an option for the “competition of the marketplace” party.

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