Review: Our Undemocratic Constitution–Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (And How We the People Can Correct It)

5 Star, Democracy

UndemocraticSolid Five for Good Sense, Elegance, and Timing, March 26, 2008

Sanford Levinson

This is one of those critical books where even a top reviewer is well advised to carfefully consider all extant reviews by others, and I have done so. They all have something important, less the fellow that cannot handle brilliance in others. Having considered all the other reviews, I continue in my own belief that this book is a solid FIVE for good sense, elegance in presentation, and timeliness.

Although I have recently lauded State of the Unions: How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve Our Economy, and Regain Political Influence as perhaps the most important book in 2008, I confess that while I still believe that in terms of restoring democracy in November, this author has provided all of us with a compelling intelligent case for demanding a constitution convention in 2008, both through a nation-wide petition to all serving Members, and through direct controntation with our three candidates (two kids and an old guy–Bloomberg is looking better and better).

My flyleaf notes begin with INSPIRING! Coinfirms we need a new constitutional convention, ably distinguishing between then and now.

I would endorse the above conclusion, arguments unseen (yet) by pointinig out that there are 27 active secessionist movements in the USA today, with the third annual meeting of these groups coming up in October 2008. They are led by Kirkpatrick Sale, author of Human Scale and I judge most of their grievances and demands to be LEGITIMATE. When combined with the reality that Congress has gerrymandered a third of the population into irrelevance, and made it impossible for another third, the Working Poor, to vote without trade-offs with work (I refer to those who walk, bike, or bus to work), I am absolutely won over by this book’s premise.

The author takes issue with seven tiny state populations having the same two Senators, and notes in passing that Senators were supposed to be elected by their legislatures rather than the people. That was changed many many years after the original was signed.

He discusses the problems with the Electoral College, with Executive power, with the Supreme Court being appointed for life, and with 13 states being able to block the rest if and when a constitutional amendment is proposed.

He ends the introductory section by surmising that the Constitution is both insufficiently democratic and dysfunctional. As one who thinks all Members less Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) should be impeached or at least not re-elected (see Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders and The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track (Institutions of American Democracy), and both party structures DESTROYED (see Running On Empty: How The Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It, a Constitutional Convention in 2009 makes definite sense to me. I would note that Henry Kissinger among many others has noted the dysfunctionality of government, and many others I have reviewed here point to the blurring of the lines among governments, organizations, cororations, and civil society, and the need to find new ways of forming and informing and leveraging Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems while also nurturing social entrepreneurs (see How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition and also The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World.

The author notes that 14 states offer their citizens a vote on whether a new constitutional review is needed, and I reiterate, if we have 27 secessionist movements, we have 27 major groups whose existence by definition DEMANDS a Constititional Convention.

The author notes that the Preamble is THE most important part of the Constitution, and it is at this point that I have a note: Joins Lessig and Sunstein as one of my top three lawyers (see also my list on judging Dick Cheney’s impeachability).

The author goes on to note that the US Constitition is THE most difficult Constitution on the planet to amend, and further observes that Congress excells at passing pork while failing always to pass substantive legislation. I agree–we cannot even get Senators Obama, Clinton, and McCain to *acknowledge* our public request that they introduce the eight-point Electoral Reform Act prior to 3 July 2008 (to read the outline of the Act, based on Ralph Nader’s recommendations and refined by Jim Turner and Robert Steele, visit Earth Intelligence Network and look for it in the top menu). As the books I linked to above document, there are two kinds of corruption in Washington: financial bribery, and party line abdication. Congress is supposed to balance the power of a “reackless and arrogant” Presidency, to quote the estimable Senator Byrd, the only one with a spine in that body.

The author proposes a tricameral situation where the President is just one of three bodies that can veto anything, and where two of the three (the others being the Senate and House, as well as the President) can over-ride the third.

He mentions DC not being represented (one reason all DC license plates have “Taxation Without Representation” on them), discusses the need for extended terms (I agree–with longevity, it makes sense to increase the House to four years, the President to six years, and the Senate to eight years).

Other highlights I note:

Death and disability in the House are not properly addressed.

The people do NOT rule America, and two thirds of them lack confidence in Congress (the percentage is probably higher today).

He spends some excellent time discussing how hard it is to replace an incompetent President (to which I would add, and how easy for an irresponsible Congress to impeach a President and spend $50 million on a minor sexual act between consenting adults (yes, there is marriage, but there is also the flagrant extra-curricular activity of the wife, so let’s call it even).

He notes how dreadful our Presidential selection process is, and I for one can only agree most forcefully. I have stopped watching the barnyard brawl between Clinton and Obama, both children and neither offering serious programs in the context of a balanced budget, and I have also written off John McCain, who is an honorable pig-headed man with no idea of how to create a grand strategy that shapes our inter-agency capabilities and policies while resurrecting multinational alliances. In this regard, I will mention four ideas a number of us have had since 2000:

1. Presidential candidates should be required to name a transition Cabinet in advance of the election, and

2. have at least three (Attorney General, Defense, and State) participate in Cabinet level debates–America is too complicated to elect one person who then picks their cronies from one party (see Transpartisan at Wikipedia or at Reuniting America).

3. The Transpartisan Cabinet should be announced on New Year’s Day of the Election Year, and be required to present a balanced budget for online deliberative dialog as well as face to face town hall meetings, by 4 July of Election Year. David Walker, former Comptroller General, resinged in year nine of a 15 year appointment because he declared the US insolvent, and not a single Member, INCLUDING Senators Obama, Clinton, and McCain, paid heed. Today David Walker runs the Peterson Foundation, and his job is to inform all of us–we care, we are ahead of the jerks in Congress–so that we can demand a restoration of a balanced budget and an end to the corruption and wasteful spending of what Davy Crockett learned was “not his to give.”

4. At the same time that we end the Cabinet being all from one party, we must end the winner take all leadership of Congress, and move to proportioinal representation, where all Libertarians in any one state count, and tightly drawn districts are allocated accordingly (See the eight-point Electoral Reform Act).

The author winds down by noting there is no point to the delay between election and inauguration, that pardon power is too loose (I for one would forbid Presidents from pardoning their own staff who get caught doing illegal things on behalf of the President–such as Scooter Libby).

The author surprises me, but I have to agree, with the suggestion that the Vice President NOT be automatically elevated to the Presidency if the President dies. Given the nakedly amoral Vice President we have now, a man that is a combination of war criminal, closet dictator, thief, and perverted in his own secret ways (see, among many other books, Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency) this is not only a sensible point of view, but an urgent one.

The author is against qualification for office such as age, citizenship, and time in state, and Arnold the Terminator as well as all of his Austrian friends will clearly love the author’s view that even the Presidency should be open to non-native Americans. I am inclined to agree, with the caveat that we have cheapened our citizenship, both with corporate personality and with gratuitous welcoming of millions who got here illegally, who have not learned to speak English, and who more often than not are more loyal to Israel or to a religion than they are to America. This whole thing needs work.

The author ends with “what is to be done” and suggests a nation-wide petition to every Member demanding a Constitutional Convention be called. He also notes with favor the value of real referendums, and of deliberative polling. In Denmark, important questions are decided by a citizen’s jury that can call witnesses, grill them, supeona them, and so on. The only qualification is that the citizen know nothing of the issue and have a completely clear and open mind. For other good ideas, see Tom Atlee’s superb book, The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All.

I put the book down with admiration for the author, and a real concern that Americans will remain apathetic sheep. We should all be signing recall petitions now, and not waiting to vote out the incumbents. We should have the incumbents, each and every one less Senator Byrd, scared to within an inch of their life. Otherwise, we will suffer the same fate and the 25+ kids at Virginia Polytechnic who instead of “rushing and crushing” the mentally ill person killing them one at a time, stood still while he reloaded and methodically shot each of them. Congress is killing each and every one of us by allowing Cheney and Bush to run amok unchecked. The country is bankrupt. The infrastucture, schools, health system, labor unions–all in the toilet. What does it take to make us MAD? I do not know. If and when we do get mad, this author and this book must be among the serious works that guide our citizen leaders as we restore the Republic.

Bravo.