Call A Convention

Yes, I really do believe we should call a Constitutional Convention and rewrite the thing, because it’s broken at the core. Not this or that amendment, I mean the core document itself, articles 1-7. It has lasted far longer than the Framers ever imagined. It was imperfect from the beginning–which is not a radical statment, by the way, since all the framers thought so too, as did practically everybody who voted to ratify it anyway.

I am not the only one who thinks it’s served its function and it’s time for a complete reboot. Lawrence Lessig of the Electronic Freedom Foundation has a good lecture on why he thinks it’s a good idea, and you conservatives who are quailing might want to listen carefully to what he says, because he’s talking to you as much as anybody.

I wish I could find a transcript of that, but there are a number of people who think the same thing, and they aren’t all flaming lefty or flaming righty nuts.

I no longer believe in the Constitution. I’ll say it again: I no longer believe in our Constitution. Parts of it? Sure. I’m particularly fond of the Bill of Rights. That’s not what I don’t believe in. I don’t believe in the seven articles. I don’t believe in the Presidency, I don’t believe in the Congress as currently structured, and I don’t believe in the judiciary as it’s currently structured.

There are a thousand people hacking at the branches of evil, and only a few hacking at its roots. I want to hack at the roots.


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  • Michael Gersh

    As with all revolutions, the idealists who foment change usually have little to do with the group that emerges with power. The constitutional convention will, of necessity, be controlled by the same politicians who have failed so miserably. Their agenda will be all about increasing their hold on their sinecures, which means more power for them, less for us.

    An imperfect document? Sure. The possibility that such a political event resulting in improvement? Zero. Two generations of voters educated in government schools will seal the inevitable disaster. Your convention would become a revolution. The same criteria you mention for the rewriting of the constitution could be applied to a movement to rewrite the Bible. We will sooner all be speaking Esperanto than changing these two documents.

  • Classically Liberal Dave

    I don’t think a Constitutional Convention will work. I think the United States is so polarized that there may be no way for it to continue. I think there are at least two different factions that want absolutely nothing to do with each other.

    I’m somewhat disappointed with both party candidates. I almost wish Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were competing for a third term, and I am not a fan of former President Clinton.

  • John Eddy

    And again, let me put it simply and plainly- those who call a Convention will have absolutely NO control over what comes out of it. Banning existing politicians from taking part dooms the measure at to failure as no sitting politician would willingly put such a thing to the states and the states would not agree to call one under those terms even if they did.

    No, you will get the same polarized extremists who have convinced you the Constitution is broken driving the creation of what will undoubtedly be a completely new Constitution that will strengthen their hold on power. That you cannot see this or simply refuse to consider it a real possibility is beyond my ability to comprehend

    You have been fooled.

    Better to dissolve the Union, and a Constitutional Convention under the extant political culture runs a serious risk of fomenting nothing less than civil war. It is a dangerous and foolhardy call for a cure-all panacea that any rational person can see will lead only to more corruption, less freedom and the eventual collapse of the Nation.

  • maggie – labrat

    What pray tell would you change it to?

  • Michael Gersh

    Look at Egypt. They didn’t like their governing arrangements. People like Dean, educated, internet and smart-phone enabled, said that Mubarak was a piece of crap. They were right. Now that they have brought him down, they have wrought genocide against Christians, repudiation against the peace deal with Israel, and impending starvation of most of their society. I’d bet that a genuine majority of Egyptian citizens today would be happy to go back to the status quo ante – and the fecal matter has not yet fully reached the whirling air mover.

    As H. Ross Perot showed us, knowing that the current arrangement is not good does nothing to make it better. Solutions MUST be enacted from within the structure. The only alternative is chaos, and death to millions.

  • jaymaster

    I made it through 10 minutes. Oh my God, how tedious!

    He had some good points. But in a few days, his main thesis could totally crumble.

    Now I admit, this is what I understand of it through only 10 minutes. But he didn’t do a good job explaining it early on, which is an epic communication failure.

    If Obama wins, I’ll go back and listen to the whole thing. It might be important then. Otherwise, the whole game could change in January.

  • Sandi

    I don’t think the Constitution is “broken at the core,” and doubt you could make a good case that it is. Imperfect yes. Needs tweaking yes, but the framers put in place a way to do that. The Amendment process. The way I see it the progressive left has little use for it, and want to replace it with their political agenda.

    There is a world of difference between a convention to write a new Constitution and writing a Constitution from scratch with no congress in power and no powrful lobbists buying Articles and Sections of the new document.

    The only people who will have control over the final document will be congress and lobbyists. They would not have to consider the present Constitution at all. Pass anything with a simple majority, and even without state ratification: just ram it down our throats.

    Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens reviews Sanford Levinson’s book: Framed: America’s Fifty-One Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance. Levinson is another advocate for a new Constitutional convention. Justice Stevens’ review should be enough to scare you off a new convention if your not already.

    Who would be the framers of this new Constitution? Levinson “would advocate that delegates from each state, proportionate to overall population, be selected by lottery, with very limited restrictions on selection (the most obvious one being age).” He would pay the delegates

    the salary for two years of a Supreme Court justice or senator, given the public importance of their job, and also to make possible service by the less well off. They would also collectively operate with a budget sufficient to allow hearings all over the United States and the world that would allow them to make the most informed choices possible regarding the kinds of issues examined throughout this book.

    Note: “hearings all over the United States and the world

    WTF! lets just have the UN write us a new one.

  • John Eddy

    The problem is not the Constitution, the problem is the culture (read that “the people”). The Founding Fathers warned us: We have handed you a Republic, if you can keep it. That wasn’t a warning against some outside power trying to reign over the United States, it was a warning to the people of the nation to keep watch over their Republic or it could slip through their fingers. For the better part of a century internal and external political forces have twisted the meaning of the Constitution almost beyond recognition and the people, like the proverbial frog in the pot, let it happen because they didn’t care to notice what was happening.

    THAT is what is broken in America: not the Constitution, but the Culture. Throwing away the Constitution to replace it with whatever corporate money and extremist special-issue pleaders would choose to create is not a solution, it is an abdication of our responsibilities as citizens of the Republic.

    Replacing the Constitution via a Constitutional Convention is an attempt at a quick fix. As such it is symptomatic of the Cultural failure I am pointing out. “Fixing the Culture is too hard so let’s ditch the Constitution and remake it- that’ll fix everything! Yay!”

    Foolishness. Absolutely indefensible foolishness. If we do call a Constitutional Convention I’ll ask you to recall Mencken-

    Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.

  • fche

    In the software business, junior folks frequently have an instinct to rewrite something they don’t understand/appreciate, as that seems cleaner or better. That tendency is gradually weaned out as one matures, and appreciates working systems for what they are.

    It seems like that in this case too, except substitute “political loser of the day” for “junior”.

  • maggie – labrat

    I think our system is brilliant. Deliberate dilution of power. If everyone is complaining and no one is happy, then we are doing things right.

  • Dean Esmay

    John: Multiple countries have managed to hold Constitutional Conventions (or the equivalent) over the last century, some like France and Italy have done it more than once since World War II, and they have somehow not dissolved into murderous barbarous civil war.

    The whole point of constructing a new Constitution is that everybody gets a voice who wants one. Ideological extremists of ALL TYPES would be there, just as they were when we formed the Articles of Confederation and just as they were when we wrote and ratified the current Constitution. Because EVERYBODY winds up showing up. And it STILL HAS TO BE RATIFIED.

    All I’m really hearing from you, brother, is fear. And the strange expectation that the way to “fix the system” is to CHANGE HUMAN NATURE. How about the radical alternative: that the system we have does not fit human nature very well anymore, it was better than anything we’d had up until 1787, but they were all dissatisfied with it back then too and even wrote procedures for a rewrite into the thing because they knew they (or future generatiosn) might want to do that very thing.

    The Constitution itself acknowledges that it may need to be thrown out and rewritten and not just amended. So what’s wrong with that?

    Brother, all I’m hearing from you is, Americans can’t be trusted. They’re awful, they’re crazy, they are too stupid to set up a new form of government that’s any good. If you believe that, then… well what can I say? It seems to me what you’re demanding is that HUMAN NATURE BE CHANGED TO ACCOMMODATE THE SYSTEM, rather than, adapting the system to better fit human nature. And have you considered the possibility that it’s the design of the system that allows the worst of humanity to come out, and not the best?

    Let me quote a wild-eyed extremist radical to you:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

    A crazy wild-eyed radical with all sorts of personality defects and flaws wrote that, ya know. By all accounts an arrogant cocksucker, possibly a rapist, definitely a slave owner, known to lie and manipulate, claimed not to want power when he actually did want it, did things once he got power that ran into direct opposition of much of what he’d said and written before he got into power, died a deadbeat with all sorts of creditors he was never able to pay while he mostly lived off of charity in his remaining years. Why did we ever trust that fucker with anything? [/sarcasm /irony]

    Humans aren’t perfect and we are not going to change human nature. What we therefore need is a system that accomodates human nature better. Is that such a radical thought?

  • Dean Esmay

    By the way, one of the reasons I bring this up now is so no one can say after November 6 that I (or others) are only saying this because we’re unhappy at who won.

    The idea stands on its own merits or it does not. The current round of elections have nothing to do with it one way or the other. The next administration could be the single best in American history (doubtful, but possible) and it would not change my view.

  • Dishman

    My objections:

    1) It would open the door to increased mandates upon the government. Those are fine as long as things are going well, but if things don’t go right, they can force the government to come unglued. Take Illinois a an example, with its constitutionally mandated pensions. The state may be in serious trouble. Putting in mandates removes some of the resilience from the system, opening the door to systemic failure.

    2) Corruption. The current political environment is pretty corrupt. This isn’t a new thing. I think that any Convention would open the door to including that corruption in our Constitution. Of particular note, I think the phrase “for a limited time” would end up being struck. Darth Mickey would be effectively enshrined.

    3) I don’t think it touches the root problem. That is, “It’s made of people”. Human nature is what it is. Culture is malleable. Human nature much less so.

    4) Unknown failures. Sometimes fear is relevant. There is always risk in all undertakings. Sometimes things you don’t understand can end up killing you.

    5) There are certain groups I mistrust who want to lock in political power. We generally call them ‘Republicans’ and ‘Democrats’. I don’t see any way to structure a convention such that their power would not end up being locked in, much the same way Congressional Redistricting creates vast swathes of ‘safe seats’. I do not see a path to success.

  • John Eddy


    Damned straight I’m afraid.

    Also, I am not saying we change human nature. I’m saying we change the culture of disinterest. I would expect that to take a couple generations, but would prefer to keep at it rather than toss the whole structure of the Constitution and replace it with what the wealthiest, loudest and craziest could come up with.

  • Michael Gersh

    You can’t change human nature – that’s why we need a rule book. Human nature, as revealed in our last two generations of voters educated in government schools, is all gimme gimme all the time. Plus there two realities such an effort faces:

    1) Impossible to pass congress
    2) Even less possible to get ratified.

    What really grates on me when I hear claptrap such as this business is, what a waste of time! What with all the problems and crises we face, to just pretend that we can reform our national rule book without benefit of a war or cataclysm happening first, is just plain silly.

  • ArnoldHarris

    Dean, I cannot imagine you put much thought into the idea of calling a new constitutional convention.

    Our original constitution, still working and whole after some 225 years, was conceptualized, drafted and agreed to by the original 13 US states by a group of clear-sighted political thinkers of the unfortunately-departed Age of Reason.

    It worked quite well to hold together disparate sub-cultures of colonial Englishmen from New England and the mid-Atlantic communities of the old South. The American people were of that time were few. But they faced a continent over which the long-term dreamers among them envisioned a great Republic that would span a continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans in a manifest destiny that came to pass in only a half-century.

    We ought to keep faith with those great men, and perhaps too with their wives who undoubtedly inspired many of their precepts, and not tinker with the central document of our republic, the destruction or replacement of which there should be no doubt would lead to a civil war and the permanent split of this country into two or many pieces, all of which would ultimately go the way of the blatherskite regimes of the South American and Central American republics.

    I think most of your commenters now understand you are beset by a bad case of blues over this present presidential election, in that you cannot seem to make up your mind who should run the country, or for that matter, how the country, its economy, foreign policy, banking and public debt control system, educational system, and much else, ought to be re-tracked.

    So why don’t you put this all on hold until America clearly can see not only who will have won the national election four nights from now, but what steps they will have taken to try rebuilding what needs to be rebuilt in the months following the Jan 20 2013 inauguration day.

    When you think about it all, just a little or maybe a lot, don’t you think that would be a better idea than what you have expressed here?

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI

  • John Eddy

    Population of Italy- roughly 60 million
    Population of France- roughly 60 million

    Both with 1000+ years of history as nations or associated city-states, with a relatively homogenous population until very, very recently.

    Population of United States of America- roughly 314 million (heterogeneous and growing more so every year- not a good thing or a bad thing, just a fact).

    History as a nation goes back to 1776 (being generous), 235 years. We had one constitution, replaced it after the Constitutional Convention of 1787 (which was convened just to ‘fix’ the Articles of Confederation, not replace them).

    We then, 75 years later, fought the bloodiest, most horrific Civil War seen on the face of the Earth to iron out most of those ‘flaws’ you like to talk about.

    And you would like to do it AGAIN?

    It seems to me (my opinion, not putting any words in your mouth) your basic problem is you don’t like the candidates you have to choose from so you want to rip it down and rebuild it so you can feel better about voting.

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