Today's reading assignment is a two-parter on the Constitution. 1. Our "imbecilic" Constitution is the problem:
Our vaunted system of “separation of powers” and “checks and balances” — a legacy of the founders’ mistrust of “factions” — means that we rarely have anything that can truly be described as a “government.” Save for those rare instances when one party has hefty control over four branches — the House of Representatives, the Senate, the White House and the Supreme Court — gridlock threatens. Elections are increasingly meaningless, at least in terms of producing results commensurate with the challenges facing the country.
But if one must choose the worst single part of the Constitution, it is surely Article V, which has made our Constitution among the most difficult to amend of any in the world. The last truly significant constitutional change was the 22nd Amendment, added in 1951, to limit presidents to two terms. The near impossibility of amending the national Constitution not only prevents needed reforms; it also makes discussion seem futile and generates a complacent denial that there is anything to be concerned about.
In Sanford Levinson’s scattershot attack on what he calls our “imbecilic” Constitution, he relies on an admixture of demonstrably false empirical claims, sloppy history, and half-baked political theorizing. He begins by claiming that “critics across the spectrum call the American political system dysfunctional, even pathological. What they don’t mention, though, is the role of the Constitution itself in generating the pathology.” Mr. Levinson clearly hasn’t been to any Tea Party rallies over the last several years, where hundreds and sometimes thousands of people gather to express their displeasure at the state of our politics, yet proudly carry copies of the Constitution tucked under their arms.
[. . .]
In rejecting the need for veneration of the Constitution, and encouraging a careless populism hostile to it, Mr. Levinson takes direct aim at James Madison’s claim, in Federalist49, that “as every appeal to the people would carry an implication of some defect in the government, frequent appeals would, in a great measure, deprive the government of that veneration which time bestows on everything, and without which perhaps the wisest and freest governments would not possess the requisite stability.” Mr. Levinson would be well advised to take a page from the Tea Party book: be a critic of political dysfunction, but a friend of wise, free, and stable constitutional government.
I think these two articles clearly illustrate the great divide today, between people who want to change incrementally based on long-established and well-tested principles and those who want to chuck everything out and fundamentally alter the nature of this country. And guess which ones get called radical? Right, those of us who carry copies of the Constitution tucked under our arms.