I haven’t the slightest clue who represents me in my state legislature. If state legislators made the important decision of whom to send to the Congress, I would probably care who they are, and perhaps others would too. Increasing this kind of engagement in the local sphere would contribute to revitalizing the sort of traditional community that is arguably unsustainable on the scale of the nation as a whole.
I used to think that an interest in local and state politics was a likely sign of narrow provincialism. But I now see that true localism would not mean the stifling of what is good in the American spirit. It would mean that I would care deeply about the people who live near me. I would think of them as a cohesive group of primary importance rather than as a haphazard set that includes members of various nationwide identity groups. It would mean that when I travel halfway across the country, I would find myself in an environment with a markedly different sub-culture from my own. This rarely happens in an America that has been culturally leveled.
The repealing of the 17th Amendment would make our political communities more meaningful. It would encourage us to interact with the people who are around us all the time. Politics on this level are better suited to enliven the human spirit than are those conducted on the massive scale of the United States, which threaten to disengage this spirit, alienate it, frustrate it, and—worst of all—turn it so inwards that its devotion to real human community seems pointless.
If you ever go back in time to 1951, you can tell someone that the USSR will be defeated and dismantled, peacefully, before the end of the century.
He might be skeptical. You can tell him that there will be two great leaders involved in the fall of Soviet communism. You can even tell him that these two leaders are already alive in his time; one of them is the priest in the village of Niegowi, Poland, and the other is starring alongside a chimpanzee in the film Bedtime for Bonzo. At this point, you will assuredly be dismissed as a lunatic.
John Paul II and Ronald Reagan may not have had typical beginnings for political figures, but nonetheless, they became beloved leaders in the fall of Soviet communism. One was a spiritual leader in Poland’s Solidarity movement, one was an inspiring and charismatic U.S. president.
They succeeded as political leaders because of, not in spite of, their non-political beginnings. They were adored precisely because they were not career bureaucrats. Some of the greatest, most cherished leaders are uncommon men with common appeal.
The 17th Amendment gives us more leaders of that sort in the Senate. It lets us elect senators by popular vote, not by the vote of a group of bureaucrats in the state legislature. It lets voters inject a new perspective if they perceive government to be lacking. Without it, the Senate would be filled with career public servants, some of them quite competent—but it would be entirely lacking in great leaders.