Thursday, June 30, 2011
A More Perfect Union
What’s a young and beautiful country like us (U.S.) doing with a decrepit constitution like the one we have? Isn’t it time to reconstitute the Constitution and what better time of the year? It is not a sacred text, Scalia to the contrary notwithstanding. The very prerogatives claimed by the Supreme Court are not specified, but asserted early on by John Marshall.
It was flawed then and 27 amendments later it is arguably more flawed. Of the 900 attempted amendments less than three percent made it through the arduous process. First the floundering fathers institutionalized slavery which took a century to fix and another century to enforce with true voting rights. In today’s world it stands as possibly the most undemocratic document among modern states. Washington and Jefferson recognized the need for change before the ink was dry; hence, the Bill of Rights. In fact Jefferson argued that a constitutional convention be convened every 20 years.
Much of the original document was designed to appease the small states so they wouldn’t be swallowed by the giants, Massachusetts, New York and Virginia. Now with two centuries of unimagined population growth, on both coasts, plus Texas and Illinois, we have a Senate which ranks lower than even the House of Lords, in disproportionate representation, since Blair dissolved the old peerage system. How does Wyoming with less than 500,000 people have the same two senators as California with 38 million? My math would give us 152 senators, not 2. Would somebody explain to me the justification of a bi-cameral legislature?
Since New York and California are firmly Blue and Texas is Red no candidate bothers to visit them except to raise money. The same is true for Delaware, the Dakotas and Vermont, which do not carry enough electoral votes to make it worth their resources. Therefore Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and other swing states get the bulk of attention.
The Electoral College is an anachronism. Even the notion of States is meaningless; a vestige of the 18th century. Is there any difference between Kansas and Nebraska in geography, history or custom? If we wish to apportion the country at all, let us have five or six regional districts similar to the federal court system. We need to have direct elections. That would, at least, have spared us George W. Bush. We are no model of republican-democracy for this modern world nor a nation dedicated to the prepositions Of, BY or For.
Why not elect the President for 6 years with no second term? I would also limit campaigns to six weeks without corporate money buying votes. The constitutional scholar, Sanford Levinson, suggests an 18-year term for Supreme Court justices. That way, one Justice would rotate out of office every two years and ensure a less ossified court and one subject to the scrutiny of the voters at least indirectly. It would also eliminate the present custom for a Justice to retire when the party of his persuasion is in office to replace him.
It can be argued that our current polarized landscape is the wrong time to consider broad changes. We could end up with something worse. The present document, flawed as it is, ensures either grid-lock or long deliberation, depending on one’s perspective. If , Do No Harm, is the best we can expect then let it be. On the other hand, I believe we can do better.
In spite of the emergence of a mindless herd of disaffected, called the Tea Party, we still need to put our belief and faith in the will of the majority with safeguards for the minority. To this end, the changes above are sorely needed. At the same time we must not become what J.K. Toole called, a Confederacy of Dunces. Campaigns of deceit backed with corporate funding subvert our democracy even more than our anachronistic Senate and judiciary. The upcoming election will, once again, become a plebiscite on the good sense of the American people.