Today's flap seems to be an argument about the Senate, Madison, the Framers, and etc., all coming out of a panel at the political science meetings on the filibuster. Since I happened to have been there* I figured I'd blog about it eventually, but in the meantime I'm always interested when people talk Madison. Basically, I think Bruce McQuain's claims about Madison are quite weak, and fully demolished by both James Joyner and Steven Taylor. McQuain (and Brian Darling) rest on Federalist 37 to understand what Madison really believed not only about federalism, but also about the specific role of the Senate within the system. Of course, we know very well that, as Joyner and Taylor point out, the Constitution was the result of a series of compromises that hardly conformed to anyone's ideas, and the Federalist Papers were pieces of political propaganda, intended to sell the Constitution they had, not the one that they would have wanted. Indeed, not only did Madison not want a Senate (mal)apportioned equally by states, but Madison wanted the national government to have a veto power over ordinary state laws, and considered is failure to secure such a veto a major defeat.
I do believe that while Madison's arguments in the Federalists were constrained by the necessity of supporting whatever institutions were created in Philadelphia, his arguments on grounds of democratic theory were, generally, sincere (and complex and contested) -- they were consistent with his private correspondence and notes pre-Philadelphia.** That is, I think the abstract arguments about majoritarian democracy in (most famously) Federalists 10 and 51 were what Madison really thought, but it's also certainly true that as Taylor says, "They are certainly not the reflection of what Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay thought were the most ideal collection of institutions that could have been devised" (emphasis his). At any rate, however much we appreciate Madison and the rest -- and we should appreciate and honor them quite a bit -- their arguments, at the end of the day, must rise or fall on their own strength, not on the reputations of their authors. It would hardly be difficult to make a disturbingly noxious stew of the odder beliefs of Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Washington, and the others (did I mention Jefferson? Oh yeah. And yes, I know he's not implicated in what happened in Philadelphia; the luckiest thing that ever happened to the USA, in my opinion). Indeed, there's a strong point to be made here about democracy. Venerating the Framers of the Constitution is a terrific democratic ritual; fetishizing their every word as fully binding on us is thoroughly anti-democratic. Americans are, of course, bound by the Constitution -- but because it is law, not because of who wrote it.
About the rest: more to come, later.
*No, I wound up not asking a question about Superbill! for the C-SPAN cameras. I did, however, discuss Superbill! with several Congressional scholars, and I'm still convinced it's a winner, along with several other reforms -- if one's goal is, as mine is, to make the Senate less disfunctional while also retaining minority, and minority party, rights.
**Sorry, no citations...the constraints entailed in blogging from the lobby of a political science conference. Also, there are distractions.