has a post today on how we're engaged in a three-way war. Lord knows I don't have anything to add to his assessment, but there was one sentence that jumped out at me:
What on earth would we do if we needed to have a Constitutional Convention today?
I know you can't really make what-ifs like that, but seriously, who do we have? Is there any politician we trust the way we trust the Founding Fathers? Who would you want to write the document that will govern us for over 300 years? My vote is on Den Beste, CavX, and VDH...but honestly, who's heard of them? The general public would react to them the way the Clevlanders reacted in Major League ("who are these f-in' guys?")
If we had a Constitutional Convention today, it would have to be properly multicultural and include representatives from all walks of life. Nothing would get done. There would be no Constitution.
To the newcomers, thanks for coming over and trying to grok. I dashed this crap off right before work, not knowing that a denbestelanche was around the corner. Oh well. If I'd known, I would've talked at greater length about the junk that would've gone into a convention today (e.g. an affirmative-action staffing of the delegates, a nanny attitude, and, as commenters have pointed out, a document the size of the EU Constitution). That's what I would've said; instead you got a reference to Major League. Sheesh.
Couldn't do it. In this case, our very modernity works against us. Anyone with a keyboard or a voice in front of a camera could make noise about such a convention...whereas the Constitution was "imposed", so to speak, only by those who could afford to travel to Philly.
And yeah, our concepts of inclusiveness and diversity would no doubt be wedged in there somehow. Despite what is uttered by many, that the Constitution was written for the benefit of rich white landowner males, I defy anyone to show a portion of t he Constitution and the first 10 amendments any phrase which suggests that is so. (It's laws and culture which put said calss of men on top, not the Constitution). Because of that "flaw", where specific grievances are not addressed, would doom any moden convention to utter failure.
The original convention produced a document and sent it to the states to ratify. This took weeks. Today, a draft proposal would appear minutes after discussion, and a thousand blogs would all have an opinion, a thousand newspapers would scream with political spin, and you could not change to any news channel without some talking head bleating about some passage that, in his opinion, slights some minority group or special interest.
This is why I always thought the circumstances in the formation of this government were utterly unique...men, who could have just said to hell with everything, didn't do that. They fought and supported the revolution, then got together afterwards because nobody else was doing it, essentially seized unified control of a proto-government, wielded enormous power, and then gave it up to the people in an organized fashion, and viola, a democratic republic.
I doubt very much you will find many people like that today. Control isn't given up easily. Then again, it never has been, so why can't we follow our historical examples to the contrary?
Posted by: Jason at May 05, 2004 02:55 AM (wfp+E)
"This is why I always thought the circumstances in the formation of this government were utterly unique..."
The thought of America being sui generis is chilling but quite possible. This is why I get skeptical about how Iraq is going to be turned into America Jr. Offhand, many countries are either institutionalized tribes or a bunch of tribes pasted together by the flimsy tape of laws.
America, OTOH, was forged from ideas, not blood. Ideas that have survived almost two and a half centuries. It couldn't be based on ancestry because America rebelled against the "homeland."
As for a modern Constitution, it would be put together by a bunch of aca-dumbics (they MUST be smart, right?) teamed with celebrities that the people want to see on TV. It would be a celiberal dream, which is to say not liberal in the good sense at all.
Better yet, the UN could write the Constitution for us. Hopefully Sudan will be put in charge of the articles on humyn (sic) rights.
Posted by: Amritas at May 05, 2004 04:32 AM (Vbt+u)
"Ideas that have survived almost two and a half centuries."
Of course, slavery and monarchy are ideas that have lasted for *millennia*.
Another thing that scares me is the youth of freedom. 99.99% of human history consists of variations on domination. The chief/king/Fuehrer gives orders, and you OBEY!! Sometimes I worry that America is a blip in the big picture, and that a century from now our descendants will be mindless drones for a local version of Kim Jong Il. Oh wait, we're already mindless drones for Bush.
Future historians may not even be able to conceive of this thing called "freedom." In their eyes, Bush would have had to be just another emperor, because no other form of leadership would be conceivable.
That is why the Left equates Bush with Hitler. They cannot imagine leaders being anything other than dictators. The trouble with Bush is not that he's an alleged dictator; it's that he's not on their side. He won't give them the statist power they crave.
With the media backing them up, the LLLunatics would be able to convince most Americans that they really did know best, and that all power should be held forever in their red gloves. Why not, if so many kewl actors on their side? When the cult of the state and the celebrity become one, we're doomed.
Posted by: Amritas at May 05, 2004 04:43 AM (Vbt+u)
Posted by: John at May 05, 2004 07:17 AM (crTpS)
No mention by SDB or yourself of the man that made America possible- George Washinton- President of the constitutional convention.
Posted by: Bob Stermer at May 05, 2004 08:30 AM (R8J7n)
The Iraqis have one advantage that the Founding Fathers didn't have. They have an example of a country that has flourished under freedom.
If I was on the Iraqi council, I'd translate the US Constitution to Arabic, throw in a few Allahs, and break for lunch.
Posted by: John Davies at May 05, 2004 09:04 AM (RSkcP)
"If I was on the Iraqi council, I'd translate the US Constitution to Arabic, throw in a few Allahs, and break for lunch."
Who says we don't still have great minds?
Posted by: Cowboy is a compliment at May 05, 2004 09:47 AM (n9YZh)
Actually, I think SDB did mention President Washington as the number one reason why the Constitution has lasted for so long... not for anything he did while in office, but for the fact that he retired after his second term, when he could easily have gone on to become the President-for-life of the US.
His was the greatest service to America, and I wonder if anyone today would have the strength to walk away from the power Washington could have had.
(Of course, at the time America wasn't much of a power, more like an apparently doomed former colony beset by enemies on all sides... so Washington's refusal to run for a third term might not have been as noble as most people think. Still, it did set a hell of a fine precedent.)
Posted by: Tatterdemalian at May 05, 2004 10:10 AM (wJmJ6)
All that said, we *do* have other examples of America turning imperialist nations into democracies. One of those democracies seems to be backsliding, but neither of them are anything like they were under their imperialist leaders.
Being a democracy doesn't mean you have to agree with everything the US does, it just means the government must be a servant of the people, rather than the people serving the government. That definition gives a lot of leeway, and some people might consider it too much freedom (heck, look what America did to natives and Africans as a democracy), but it puts nations on the right track, and produces much better results than demanding instant perfection only to be disappointed again and again.
Posted by: Tatterdemalian at May 05, 2004 10:20 AM (wJmJ6)
The greatest mark of genius of our Founding Fathers is the process for CHANGE that they incorporated into the Constitution. "... a more perfect union..." This is the goal always and each generation has redefined that goal.
Posted by: rabidfox at May 05, 2004 10:31 AM (CAVPy)
Two examples of a Constitutional Convention today:
(1) Following up on John Davies' comment (2:04pm), check out the text of the CPA/IGC proposed interim constitution for Iraq. It's short, readable, and even elegant (er, in its English translation). It is
a distillation of our 1787. Whether it will come to be seen as a founding document, or as a scrap of well-meant tissue is a question for another day.
(2) For a sense of what a modern-day American Convention would probably produce, read some of the skeptical commentary on the currently-pending EU Constitution. Lengthy, with turgid, impenetrable prose, it does not follow the American experiment's focus on negative
rights (e.g. the right to not
have the government interfere with your freedom of speech). Instead, it enumerates positive
rights (e.g. to education, healthcare, pension), and enshrines the bureaucratic apparatus that will regulate the conduct of individuals and instututions within Society. Depressing, that our European friends may see the announced destination, 'Serfdom,' but are getting on the bus anyway.
Posted by: AMac at May 05, 2004 11:34 AM (tH09J)
"That is why the Left equates Bush with Hitler. They cannot imagine leaders being anything other than dictators. The trouble with Bush is not that he's an alleged dictator; it's that he's not on their side. He won't give them the statist power they crave."
Close. But I think the closer truth is that they can't imagine how THEY would be the dictator. Everybody who I know who leans left always has How Things Should Be Done And People Should Be Made To Do Them This Way And It's How It Should Be Done that they're quite willing to tell me about, and how to make that effective policy, or make it such that people wouldn't game the system, since they won't buy into it, etc.. well, that's just Wrong To Discuss. (In other words "OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!").
It's more that THEY want to be the dictator, and of course, everybody must think like them...
Posted by: Addison at May 05, 2004 11:41 AM (8FAPm)
After reading your post, I see everything clearly now. All that's needed is one word:
Bush has power. They don't. They want it. Case closed.
Posted by: Amritas at May 05, 2004 11:48 AM (GUIbU)
If you want to see what would come out of a modern Constitutional convention, look at the new EU "Constitution". http://european-convention.eu.int/bienvenue.asp?lang=EN It is an enormous document that includes every fad known to humankind, and is very arguably unworkable. It also looks like no one will accept it, because it doesn't have enough stuff to make enough people happy about it.
Posted by: Ralph at May 05, 2004 11:55 AM (to9Q0)
If there were a CC today, I think it would be dominated by Big Business, who would buy all of the representatives. (As mentioned, most of what was written was by - and favored - white land owners.) But I think the result of a CC today would be a country controlled by Big Business, kinda like what the RoboCop movie predicted for the future of Detroit.
Posted by: _Jon at May 05, 2004 11:59 AM (ewFgD)
As DenBeste would put it (or perhaps he already has) the difference between the EU Constitution and our own is the notion of where government is derived.
In our system, the building blocks are indeed a series of statements that say "Congress shall make no law" and enumerates what the government can and cannot do, and provides a conduit to change things if it becomes necessary to do so.
In the EU, there's no concept of limited government. What, you want to restrict the powers of government? To what purpose? Government may need to change itself in a hurry, without the considerations of the governed, should it become necessary to do so.
That's the big difference. One system allows for change via the electorate, the other changes itself. The former is far slower, to be sure, but at least those that are governed will have a say in the process. The latter is much faster, surer, but there are no checks to ensure that the government doesn't change to suit itself.
The result? Our Constitution can fit on two pages. It's a measure of trustworthiness. The EU constitution will have to be pressed on double sided DVD, as each and every article spells out what government must provide...because if they did not, the government may decide someday not to provide it, and nobody will have any say but those currently in office.
Posted by: Jason at May 05, 2004 12:09 PM (rfgVv)
You said "What on earth would we do if we needed to have a Constitutional Convention today?"
If I remember rightly Den Beste had an article discussing this, and I took away the impression that the single largest driving force in their "getting it right", was the necessity of convincing a variety of different states to agree to one set of laws, with the knowledge that that states (with all of their lawyers, accountants etc) are not fooled by even the densest legal jargon or feel-good prose when they are considering their bottom line (survival and future viability as a member of the nation).
In modern terms I would compare that lucidity with the sense of cohesion we experienced immediately after 9/11. It has faded considerably since and we are now back to the usual BS, but for a little while there I think America was jolted into a wakefulness that would have at least been in the same ballpark as what it took to form our constitution way back when.
Beyond that I would say that the general in-your-face harshness of the world back then explained the rest of the gap.
I do agree that the Founding Fathers were pretty amazing individuals but I think alot can be explained by the local circumstances.
Posted by: Scott at May 05, 2004 01:44 PM (f8958)
I think that a modern constitutional convention could achieve a lot. Not to write a new constitution, but called to pass, say, 5-10 amendments. An ammendment keeping the government off the internet, balanced budget, maybe line item veto or federal control of the environment. The debate would be a good thing, if it was organized right. Then we could get back to strict constitutionalism.
Oh, a note on the insane EU constitution, it has more pages than ours has words.
Posted by: MIchael at May 05, 2004 01:45 PM (I7JMz)
I hate to be a schnitzelhead, but Jefferson was in Paris during the constitutional convention of 1787, otherwise, your analysis is on the mark.
Posted by: John Cheeseman at May 05, 2004 02:44 PM (Ae7Ou)
Washington stepped down. So did Adams. His was as significant because another party, under Jefferson, took control of the government. And it was done without bloodshed.
When did something like that happen anywhere else in the world previously?
I've tried to encourage Iraqis like Zeyad and Ali to get out governmental documents translated into Arabic and spread around their country. The Federalist has digital copies of all ours, and many other historical documents pertinent to the situation. If any Arabic translators are out there willing to do such a task, it would be invaluable to the Iraqis. And I doubt our government is doeing anything like this out of concern we would be seen as trying to force our system on Iraq.
Posted by: Mike at May 05, 2004 03:37 PM (rqnO7)
There are a few things in this world that give me chills every time that I think of them, that make me give thanks that I'm living in this good world, and not some other. One of them is that the United States of America is the most powerful country in the world today.
What if it were China, or Russia, or even France or Germany, or even the UK? To me, it puts a different perspective on America's faults.
Posted by: David Boxenhorn at May 05, 2004 05:32 PM (ARTDu)
"What on earth would we do if we needed to have a Constitutional Convention today?"
Although I certainly have no talent for being a member of such a convention, I would want to have trust in the people that I would choose to represent me. After reading his book, I believe Randy E. Barnett has gained my trust. I would also trust SDB because of the content of his character, which is not without flaws as are we all.
Whomever was to represent my interests would have to know that I will fight to retain all liberties that do not infringe on the rights of others. Also, that some liberties (life, speech, not having to ask permission to blow my nose) are more important that others (wearing a hat indoors, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk.) But I still retain the right to ride my bicycle on the sidewalk as long as the rights of others is not infringed.
Not endorsing the subject matter, here's an example of Randy E. Barnett
Posted by: ken anthony at May 05, 2004 06:11 PM (6ZsyF)
One day a few years ago, I told my doctor the joke, "What do you call a med student who graduates last in his class? Answer: Doctor. My doctor laughed, and then seriously commented about the qualifications of doctors.
He said any doctor who graduates med school must have a minimum understanding of the field of medicine. Beyond that, doctors do vary in their skill and in their knowledge. But from a patient's point of view, it was not so important what a doctor knew, but his willingness to admit ignorance when he doesn't know the answer. My doctor said no one can know it all, so it is important to be cognizant of your limitations and seek help when it was appropriate. He suggested that a patient was better served by a doctor who relied on various resources, rather than by a super smart doctor who refused to acknowledge his limitations.
Taken into the context of a Constitutional Convention, the important thing the founders did was that they acknowledged their own limitations. They did not presume to see into the future, and therefore did not try to construct a document for the ages. Ironically, by eschewing the arrogant attempt a la the EU to create the perfect government, they did create a document for the ages - a document that allowed for and has incorporated change.
Today's political climate in not conducive to acknowledging limitations. So I am glad that there has been no Constitutional Convention in our time.
Posted by: Scott Harris at May 06, 2004 01:50 AM (E1M88)
I would have to include Bill Whittle in the list of necessary people to a modern Consitutional Convention. Of course Den Beste, also.
"What would the world do without engineers?
Nothing, absolutely nothing."
Posted by: Ron - WI at May 06, 2004 07:37 AM (CwrQg)
Congratulations on the "denbestelanche!"
Posted by: annika at May 06, 2004 01:46 PM (zAOEU)
RE: Funny, Isn't It...
...how God works.
[There are no coincidences. -- Ambassador Sinclair, Babylon 5]
Posted by: Chuck Pelto at May 07, 2004 06:53 PM (UT6pn)
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