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Opening Arguments

Conventional wisdom

I've done a blog post or two (and a few editorials) in support of the calling of a constitutional convention. There have been various proposals for what it should tackle, but the one gaining traction is to convene one to craft a balanced budget amendment. So far, legislators in 27 states have passed applications for the convention, and activists are pushing for new applications in nine other states where Republicans control both chambers of the legislature. If they get seven, that will bring the number of applications to 34, meeting the two-thirds requirement under Article V of the Constitution for Congress to call a convention.

The Article V convention is being pushed mostly by conservatives. But not all conservatives are enthusiastic. Here's one, Noah Rothman at the Hot Air blog, who calls it "the right's worst idea":

The Post immediately identified the obvious pitfalls associated with this plan. The foremost among them for conservatives being the fact that participation in a constitutional convention will not be limited exclusively to those Americans who share their political values. Liberals, too, will be inclined to litigate their cultural and legal grievances with the system at this convention. Secondly, the scope of such an affair is likely to broaden extensively in relatively short order. A balanced budget process will quickly become the least pressing priority for the conventioneers. Finally, the Founders were so vague as to how such a gathering would operate that it could easily spiral out of the control of those in attendance, and that has the potential to usher in a very real and potentially violent constitutional crisis.

That's always been the chief knock against the endeavor, that we'd get a runaway convention coming up with all sorts of wild and crazy ideas we'd be horrified by. My answer to that has always been: Yes, but three-fourths of the states have to ratify whatever the convention comes up with, and if that happens, the country is already too far gone to save. A much more likely outcome, in my opinion, is that the same partisan gridlock that afflicts Congress would afflict a convention as well. As polarized as we are today, it's hard to imagine a majority of delegates agreeing on anything.

Rothman does have one complaint that resonates with me:

For conservatives who ostensibly venerate the Constitution, it is odd to see so many of them fail to acknowledge that proposing it’s complete revision undermines their political position dramatically. Displaying respect for the Founders’ ideals and creating the conditions whereby their work might be entirely demolished are mutually exclusive.

For "entirely demolished," see above. But I get the point about venerating the Constitution and the Founders' ideals, and it has troubled me some. But, look, the federal government has become gargantuan in ways the Constitution doesn't authorize and the Founders (most of them anyway) would abhor. And those wielding the power sure aren't going to give it up voluntarily, so we have to try to take it away from them. I say give this a shot.

(The post also has a couple of good links that will get you pretty much up to speed on this issue if you are interested.)