Episode 2.3: Bulwark of the Opulent Minority: Can the Senate Ever Be Democratic?


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Interviewer: MATTHEW BERKMAN. As the Democratic Party seeks to regain the Presidency and retain the House of Representatives in November, it well recognizes that the chief stumbling block to consolidating government control is the U.S. Senate. Wharton Guardsmark Professor ERIC ORTS argues that this short-term predicament is due, in no small part, to the many ways that the Senate was designed from the start to thwart small-d democracy. In his discussion with political scientist Matthew Berkman, Orts provides a detailed analysis of the Democrats’ prospects in flipping the Senate, with a focus on tight races in swing states. He then considers the history and structure of the Senate as an institution, which was established, in James Madison’s words, to “protect the minority of the opulent,” from slaveholding elites to modern-day business interests. Far from hopeless, however, Orts proposes a bold way to reform the Senate both in terms of electoral fairness and effective governance (as previously detailed in his January 2019 Atlantic essay, “How to Fix the Senate”). Note: This interview was recorded on August 7, 2020, prior to the party conventions.

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