The $64,000 question in American politics in the last decade has been, what went wrong? Why is our political system so gridlocked and unable to address the nation’s problems? Everybody has their favorite explanation and we’ve talked about a lot of them. Polarization and voter sorting. Money in politics. An extreme and/or dysfunctional Republican Party. Too many Americans dependent on government spending. Too much government interference in the economy. Barack Obama. People that agree with Bruce. Or with me.
In case you didn’t know, some experts pin a lot of the blame on the Constitution itself. They point out that no other nation on earth is governed by a founding document written over 200 years ago and amended barely at all in the last 100 years. They draw a straight line between the Constitution’s alleged flaws and archaic provisions and many of our longstanding political problems, especially the gridlock. A lot fo these experts have their own wish list of amendments they say would update the constitution for the 21st century.
None of them are going to be adopted, of course. It’s almost impossible to amend the Constitution at all, given the need for a 2/3 vote in both House and Senate and ratification by ¾ of the states. Worse, any amendment that would substantially alter our political system also would upset the current distribution of power within it. I suggested this topic anyway because I think it is illuminating to consider how constitutional restrictions affect our political problems and whether and how a different set of rules might change things. I also think that where people stand on prominent proposed constitutional amendment reveals a lot about their political values and priorities in our democracy. Progressives and conservatives have very different ideas on what’s wrong with our Constitution and/or what’s wrong with the way we interpret it. I’ll explain more what I mean in Monday’s opening.
Lots of links this week. I tried to highlight the pithiest and best ones.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- Why did the founding fathers make the Constitution so hard to amend? Was this wise or an error?
- Can today’s political problems really be laid at the Constitution’s feet, or do they have other origins? Which are the most problematic parts of the Constitution and why?
- What major amendments have been proposed to “update” the constitution? Do you think any of them would improve the functioning of the system?
- What do our opinions about this subject reveal about our political philosophy and political motives?
- Are there ways to “get around” the constitution’s restrictions or archaic parts other than by amendment?
- What about calling a constitutional convention of the states? Would this bypass Washington and the special interests – or be taken over by them and/or by ideological partisans?
LINKS – The Problem (or is it?)-
- Our political system is gridlocked because it was designed to be easily gridlocked. Recommended. More on the Constitution causing our gridlock..
- The worst problem is we cannot really amend the Constitution. (Judge Posner)
- “Our undemocratic Constitution.” Recommended
- No, the Constitution does not need changing. We just need to go back to its original meaning including limited government. (RedStates.com)
- Conservatives have proposed many constitutional amendments, including the “Liberty Amendments.” Recommended
- Changes some experts would like to make. Recommended
- John Paul Stevens: The retired liberal SCOTUS justice says we need six new amendments. For them. Against them. A much fuller analysis (Sunstein).
- Another (ambitious!) expert wants 23 changes! His list of the 23 + his explanation.
- A wild idea, FWIW: Let’s just give up on the Constitution!
- Public opinion: Which amendments does the public support?
Next Week: Why Do Grass Roots Political Movements Succeed or Fail??