HT: Mike P. of the Repeal the 17th Amendment Discussion Board
Political commentator and political science professor Larry Sabato puts forward the idea of revamping the U.S Constitution. Differing from Sabato’s “progressive” leaning,
We need a new Constitution
The nation has changed since 1787. The founding document has to catch up.
By Larry J. Sabato
The presidential candidates are offering prescriptions for everything from
If we really want to make progress and achieve greater fairness as a society, it is time for elemental change. And we should start by looking at the Constitution, with the goal of holding a new Constitutional Convention.
Sound radical? If so, then the founders were radicals. They would be amazed and disappointed that after 220 years, the inheritors of their Constitution had not tried to adapt to new developments that the founders could never have anticipated in
Thomas Jefferson, for example, insisted that "no society can make a perpetual Constitution. ... The Earth belongs always to the living generation. ... Every Constitution ... naturally expires at the end of 19 years" (the length of a generation in
The Constitution remains brilliant in its overall design and sound with respect to the Bill of Rights and the separation of powers. But there are numerous archaic provisions that inhibit constructive change and adaptation. These constitutional bits affect the daily life of the republic and every citizen in it. A few examples:
* Restoring the war powers balance. The framers split authority concerning matters of war-making between the president (commander in chief) and Congress (declaring war). Does anyone seriously believe that they would have approved of the executive department waging years-long wars without the explicit approval of the legislature? Yet the advantages accruing to any president -- the unitary nature of the office, the swift action that only he can take in a hair-trigger world, his dominance of the televised public forum -- have created an emperor as much as a president. The constitutional balance of shared war-making must be restored.
The president should have the freedom to commit troops for up to six months, under procedures similar to that of the War Powers Resolution of 1973. But a new constitutional amendment should require that after six months -- and every six months thereafter -- both houses of Congress, by affirmative vote and without filibusters, would have to approve any extension. If one house votes no on extending, all combat troops must be withdrawn within a year.
This is an institutional reform, not a partisan attack on George W. Bush. Harry Truman on
* Creating a more representative Senate. Stunningly, just 17% of the current American population elects a majority of the
But today, the structure of the upper chamber of Congress is completely outmoded. Let's build a fairer Senate by granting the 10 states with the greatest population two additional senators each, and the next 15 most populated states one additional senator each.
* Transforming presidential elections. Americans don't have to be convinced that our presidential election system is broken. The nation needs a sensible system of rotating regional primaries so that it would no longer be subject to the selfish whims of a few states.
The electoral college also must be overhauled, with more populated states receiving additional electors so that a candidate who loses the popular vote can no longer become president. Why not abolish it entirely? The state-based electoral college isolates and simplifies recounts. Imagine how hopeless our predicament would be if the 2000
* Ending second-class citizenship. We promote the cultural myth that any mother's son or daughter can grow up to be president, but it isn't even literally true.
The founders were concerned about foreign intrigue in the early days of an unsettled republic, so they limited the presidency to those who were "natural born" citizens. But the melting pot that is now the
Any American who has been a citizen for at least 20 years should have the right to aspire to the White House.
I have barely scratched the surface in identifying long-delayed constitutional reforms. No thoughtful person will rush to change the Constitution, and it will take many years of work. But let the debate begin, and let us start the process that will lead to a 21st century Constitutional Convention.
Larry J. Sabato is the author of "A More Perfect Constitution: 23 Proposals to Revitalize Our Constitution and Make
Larry Sabato Doesn’t Understand the Constitution
By Matt Mayer
In an opinion piece in the
In support of his call to redo the Constitution, Sabato trots out a quote from Thomas Jefferson positing that a constitution is only good for nineteen years. The quote comes from a letter
Even if we could, does Sabato really think we should throw-out the Constitution every nineteen years? If not, why rely upon
The four “horribles” that Sabato cites as reasons we need to ditch the Constitution are largely baseless. First, Sabato calls for the need to restore “the war powers balance.” Under the Constitution, the crisis for which Sabato seeks to undo 220 years of history can be dealt with quite simply – the Congress has the power of the purse so can refuse to fund a war it has not authorized, which would force the Commander in Chief to end the war. Now, that would take courage, which most politicians today lack, but an absence of political courage should never be the reason we undo the foundation of our country.
Next, Sabato wants to end the “second-class citizenship” that he thinks exists because the Constitution requires the President to be a natural born American. At our current population count of 300 million, given that there are four former or current presidents still alive and roughly twenty more elections until the youngest alive today would presumably be dead, at best, twenty-four Americans out of 300 million will become President. It is such a small fraction that it isn’t worth noting what the odds of becoming President are for anyone alive today. The point is that it really isn’t that big of a deal and certainly is an enormous overstatement to say that the Constitution creates two tiers of citizenship based on odds worse than playing the lottery.
Then, Sabato raises the bogeyman of the Electoral College to argue for giving larger states even more electors “so that a candidate who loses the popular vote can no longer become president.” Factually, out of the fifty-five elections we have had since 1789, only on three occasions (1876, 1888, and 2000) has the winner of the Electoral College not also been the winner of the popular vote, which means it has happened in less than 6% of our presidential elections and only once in the last 120 years. That certainly doesn’t qualify as a crisis.
Sabato’s fictional crisis also fails to understand the purpose served by the Electoral College. When the Founding Fathers constructed our system of government, they carefully inserted many checks and balances against factions. Because
In contrast to the House of Representatives, the Senate was made-up of two senators from every state who were elected by the state legislatures. The senators’ primary role was to represent the interests of their states (which might, at times, be in conflict with the majority of people of the states). The fundamental reason why senators were elected by state legislatures was because that process guaranteed that the senators would fight in
The President was elected in a manner that gave both the people and the states a role in his election and he served to represent
Finally, Sabato raises what I think is the most significant issue in America today given the impact it has on our system of government; namely, that the Senate is not a very representative body. Sabato is right, but for the wrong reason. The Senate does not represent the interest it was designed to represent – the interest of the states. With the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913 during the Progressive Era, senators were elected popularly by the people, which disconnected them from being accountable to state legislatures. Not surprisingly, both the era of unfunded mandates and the massive expansion of the federal government during the New Deal and the Great Society Eras began soon thereafter – especially given that the passage of the federal income tax under the 16th Amendment in the same year provided for the means to fund the activities of the expanding federal government.
When states lost their check to rein in recalcitrant senators who voted for legislation that would grow federal power at the expense of state power or for legislation that would pose an unfunded mandate on the states, senators could support legislation that proved popular despite the short or long-term consequences of the legislation on the states. A recent example is the passage of the Real ID Act that requires states to add federal requirements to their driver’s license without receiving federal funds to adopt those requirements. Estimates put the price tag of the Real ID Act for states at over $11 billion.
In order to return to the constitutional structure wisely put in place by the Founding Fathers so that states have a voice and a check on
Next, such a move will place a far greater emphasis on which party controls the state legislature, thereby elevating the importance of state and local political races. This change will create a strong incentive for greater accountability to the voters. Such a change also will create more of an incentive for state and local governments to integrate statewide on activities and initiatives so that their senators can represent more effectively their interests in
Most critically, with the states able to move power out of
Contrary to Sabato’s view, we don’t need a new constitution. History itself has demonstrated that a constitution can survive well beyond
Matt A. Mayer, President & CEO of Provisum Strategies LLC and International Studies Adjunct Professor at The Ohio State University, is a Claremont Institute
Comment: From my perspective the commentaries present the great divide, and this is the single greatest problem we have in our whole ideological debate. We on the right see the U.S. Constitution as a corner stone that should only be modified under serious consideration, while the left seeks to modify as needed at the moment. We see greater diffusion of power, they see greater consolidation. They see more influence given by the population directly; we fear the popular swings in opinion that are driven by emotion rather than cautious reason.
However, there is hope in that Sabato acknowledges the power to make war has steadily grown in the Office of the President. Through the wisdom of the founding fathers, and of late because of Rep. Ron Paul, people are waking up to this growing realization. However Sabaot lacks the consistency of thought that the original U.S. Constitution had, in that diffusion of power was mandated across the board and to the states over the national government, not just to soley to war making.
To anyone that is libertarian and conservative minded, a supporter of the FairTax, desires the repeal of the 16th and 17th Amendments, and those wanting to reduce the size of the federal government must know that the paradigms that separate us and those on the left are great. It is only through earnest debate and a renewed understanding of our history that we will have a chance of illustrating our beliefs. But it has to start in the classrooms and with the young.
Unfortunately, we have almost three generations, not counting the World War II Depression generation that has become entrenched with "socialistic" beliefs and norms. It will only be until these generations are no longer able to vote that we will have solid hope for the restoration of our culture and government. But until then we must educate our young and spread the word through them; they have to be the change agents guided by the rational hand.
And one final thought to all my Republican acquaintances; look beyond Ron Paul the man, and look at his message. I know that most of you will agree with 90 percent of his message. Please take that knowledge and apply it to your life and to your supported candidate and ask yourself, “does my life as our government now controls it, comport with Ron Paul and the founders visions; and does my candidate comport with the same.” If it does then you are on track, but if it doesn’t and you believe our present situation in this country certainly doesn’t comport with the founder’s vision, then you should support Ron Paul for President. I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone other than Ron Paul that comports with the founders. Give it some thought.