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Far From the “Greatest,” US Senate is a National Shame

One thing I’m grown increasingly tired of is the old trope that the United State Senate is somehow the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” The already absurd claim was taken to even greater levels of hyperbole by Senator Olympia Snowe in her op-ed about her retirement. She called the Senate the “greatest deliberative body in human history.

The sad reality is that the United States Senate is no such thing. Far from being a model of good democratic governance, it should be viewed as a point of national shame.

The rules and traditions governing the chamber would be comically silly if not so monumentally important. The idea the passage of important legislation hinges on whether a few senator are willing to read a phone book for a long time or repeatedly stop the chamber with unless quorum calls is terrifying stupid. It would be idiotic for a high-school student body government to run itself this way, but it is horrifying that a branch of the government of the world’s only super power is run under these rules.

More importantly, the US Senate is now the least democratic and radically most unrepresentative legislature chamber among the world’s true democracies. Over the centuries the inherently unrepresentative nature of the Senate has only gotten worse while the federal government has also grown in importance. As a result of the Senate now some Americans votes are worth at least 50 times more than others. Let’s also not forget that the design of our Senate also disenfranchises the roughly 600,000 American citizens who live in Washington DC who pay taxes but can’t vote for their own government. No other democracy comes anywhere close to this unfair setup. The only thing it is the world’s greatest at is making a mockery of the basic democratic concepts of all men are equal and one man one vote.

Finally, in addition to violating the basic democratic principle of equality, the terrible design of the Senate totally prevents proper representation of minorities in our government. African Americans make up 12.6% of the population, so if we were using any sensible democratic legislative system, they should hold roughly 12 percent of the seats; yet currently not one of the 100 US senators is African American, and rarely has there been more than one serving at a time. A big part of the reason is that a large number of Senate seats are assigned to only a few very low population states that are almost exclusively white.

I can go around trying to get people to call me the “world’s tallest man” but that won’t change the fact that it is clearly not true. In the same way, no matter how many times the “world’s greatest deliberative body” lie is repeated, it doesn’t stop being a lie. For the long term good of the country it is well past time we start acknowledging the Senate for what it is. It is an archaic, anti-democratic, anti-minority chamber that is governed by perhaps the dumbest set of rules imaginable for a legislative body. For from being the greatest, it is one of the worst legislative bodies on Earth. It should not be a point of pride but a point of national shame.


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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at