New Constitutional Convention

Over at Daily Kos, they are really worried about the possibility of a National Convention to amend the constitution. They explain their concerns in a typically classy and well mannered way in a email I received.

I know many of you don’t pay much attention to the right-wing noise machine, and when you do dismiss what you hear for obvious reaons — like they’re generally full of shit.

Well, that’s all true, but that doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous.  After all, many liberals and progressives laughed at and dismissed Rush Limbaugh and the other right-wing talk radio shock jocks as clowns, back in the 90s, but look how much influence he has had and how much damage he’s done to our civil discourse.  These things have a way of flying under the radar until they reach a critical mass, then they explode to cause no end of trouble.

Reaons? What’s spell check? If they really want to know who has done the most damage to our civil discourse I would recommend they read The Real Radio Hatemongers,  a publication put out by the Media Research Council. It’s a little old but I doubt if the vile rhetoric of the left has changed much.

That’s why I’m writing today about a growing movement in far-right circles that sounds like a bunch of crackpots, but could actually pose a serious danger to our democracy.  Spurred on by Mark Levin and others, there is a grass-roots conservative movement to convene an Article V convention of the States to amend the Constitution by enacting so-called “Liberty Amendments” that would eliminate the popular election of Senators, require a balanced federal budget, prohibit the federal government from any activity conducted by the states (including healthcare), effectively eliminate the commerce clause and the general welfare clause, enact term limits on judges and enable the States to overturn judicial decisions, impose nation-wide voter id laws, and enshrine several other far-right hobbyhorses as Constitutional imperatives.  And this movement has support from people who should know better, like state representatives from Indiana and Georgia.  While obviously on the fringe now, these sorts of things have a tendency to become mainstream conservative thought if unchecked.  Follow me below the squiggle for more details.

There is a meeting of representatives from at least 30 states scheduled just three days from now, Saturday, December 7, at the library in Mount Vernon.  (Is nothing sacred?  George Washington is probably spinning in his grave even as we speak.)  Elected officials will be among the attendees: David Long, President of the Indiana State Senate; and Jason Spencer, Georgia state representative.

In fact, the state of Indiana has actually enacted legislation to facilitate the appointment of delegates to such a convention, and to govern their activities.

To take a step back, I should explain that Article V of the Constitution provides two ways to amend the Constitution.  The first, with which we are familiar because it is the way all amendments have been enacted to date, is for two-thirds of the House and Senate to vote for an amendment, which is then sent to the States for ratification (which requires approval by three-fourths of the States).  But alternatively, if two-thirds (34) of the States so request to Congress, Congress must then call a convention to propose amendments (which must then be ratified, again, by three-fourths of the States).  Although the procedures for such a convention are unclear, the folks currently pushing this take the position that such a convention would be a creature of the State legislatures, with delegates appointed by the legislatures and bound by their instructions.

Yea Indiana! Actually I suspect that George Washington would approve of most of these “right wing hobby horses”. It is important to remember that the men who made up the Constitutional Convention did not really intend to create a “democracy”. The word democracy did not have the positive connotations it has today. Instead it meant something closer to mob rule. One of the fears of the founding fathers was of a tyranny of the majority, the idea that a majority could vote away the rights and property of a minority.

English: Painting, 1856, by Junius Brutus Stea...
Time to meet again? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The intent of the framers was a balanced system based on an idealized view of the British constitution and the government of the Roman Republic. This system was to include a monarchical element, a president elected by an electoral college, an aristocratic element, a Senate with senators selected by state legislatures and functioning as representatives from the states to the federal government, and a democratic element, the House of Representatives which was elected by and represented the people. Over time, this system has become more democratic and yet has functioned less well to guarantee liberty, especially in recent years.

The procedure that Daily Kos paints as somehow illegitimate is completely constitutional though it has not been done before. It is less irregular than the Senate changing centuries old rules to suit the political party in the majority or amending the constitution through judicial reinterpretation by activist judges. Despite their description of the liberty amendments as far right fringe, I suspect that a large plurality of people would support many of them, perhaps even a majority. If this were really a crack-pot fringe movement, I seriously doubt this movement would be any particular threat to anybody. I don’t think that very many people believe the country is heading in the right direction and more and more are coming to the opinion that some kind of drastic action is needed to halt and even reverse our slow slide into despotism. That, of course, is precisely what Daily Kos fears most.

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