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The Senate GOP Establishment Insults the Base Over Ukraine

State of the Union: Sorry, Senators Tillis and McConnell, you are no Cicerones. 

<“https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/washington-dc-usa-6th-january-2015-796083919”> Credit: mark reinstein

“Our base cannot possibly know what’s at stake at the level that any well-briefed U.S. senator should know about what’s at stake if Putin wins,” Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, said in a reported scooplet during what is now an open fight about not just foreign policy, but the direction of the republic itself. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined in, against those with “the dimmest and most shortsighted views of our obligations.” 

“I know it’s become quite fashionable in some circles to disregard the global interests we have as a global power,” he added. “To bemoan the responsibilities of global leadership. To lament the commitment that has underpinned the longest drought of great power conflict in human history. This is idle work for idle minds. And it has no place in the United States Senate.”

I remain, er, speechless at the accusation of having an “idle mind” and remain in awe of McConnell’s more “active” one, but a curious patrician instinct is visible here. I actually agree that the Senate should be authoritative, and not the people: That’s how the system was originally designed. In Federalist 62, James Madison outlined the need for the Senate: “The necessity of a senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies, to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions.”

It’s an instinct as old as the Roman Republic. A true-blue republic is fundamentally an elitist project; it presupposes a public house of debate and deliberation opposed to the public passions of the majority, and in turn is therefore guarded by the checks and balances of a senatorial class. “To consort with the crowd is harmful,” Seneca warned. “The greater the mob with which we mingle, the greater the danger.” Madison himself was influenced by none other than Cicerocum potestas in populo, auctoritas in senatu sit. 

Unfortunately, the firebrand Cicero-LARPing section of our current senators suffers from a mild but somewhat notable disadvantage. They are not Cicerones; the act works only with, first, a true-blue patrician class within the republic who considers very narrow national interest and refuse to waste native-born blood and treasure for abstract values on wars faraway; and, second, who refuses to delegate the authority bestowed upon them to nameless lobbyists and bureaucrats.


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