Monday, November 4, 2013
Oh, Let's Not
Alex Seitz-Wald has a provocative piece suggesting that the US needs a new Constitution. Largely this is a response to the current "crisis governance" that we are enjoying at the moment. First, I would note that precisely because the crisis governance model is a disaster, that we are unlikely to continue with it. I am hopeful, actually, that we shut down the government again in January, because I think that will be the death knell for the Tea Party.
There are some meritorious suggestions for changes in the Constitution that would help our current state. First, a majoritarian electoral system would be a good idea. Louisiana and California currently have this. Basically, everyone appears on the ballot at one time and the top two candidates advance if no one gets 50%+1. So if it's a fairly liberal district, you might get a GOP candidate, a Democratic candidate and a Green candidate. And maybe the Democrat and the Green party candidates advance, in which case you get a Center-Left vs Left election. More likely you would force the two parties to the middle, but at the very least, you would empower other voices.
Second, would be to deal somehow with gerrymandering. All of these solutions would seem to falter on the alter of federalism. The best solution would be if the House was elected by proportional representation. This would insure a House that reflects the wishes of the entire population. But it would destroy the idea of a constituent/representative relationship. Plus, states would not want to give up their control of districting. So while a proportional representation system would solve our current system, there is no way it gets passed.
Third, some form of campaign finance reform is necessary. This could, however, be dealt with in a straightforward constitutional amendment. So could an amendment that tries to end gerrymandering by requiring that a congressional district have the smallest possible circumference to include a district's population. No need for a constitutional convention for that.
And the article concludes with the realization that such a convention would likely simply be a continuation of the hyperpartisan situation we see in Congress. How would this new Constitution deal with abortion? Guns? Privacy? Federalism? A balanced budget requirement?
At the end, Seitz-Wald starts throwing out bizarre science fiction scenarios. Some of which border on the fascistic (Starship Troopers? Really?) Others are the sort of techno-libertarian claptrap that doesn't really deserve consideration.
Should America adopt a parliamentary system? There are a number of advantages to a Parliament. But while the British Parliament tends to be stable, this is largely because of the consensus nature of British politics. Other parliamentary systems can be very unstable.
There is no doubt that we can change certain aspects of our Constitution. I'd love to see campaign finance reform and electoral reform.
But re-opening the can of worms of creating a new Constitution seems to be both cynical and hopelessly idealistic. Cynical, in that a new Constitution would be a way for groups to inject their own preferred wishes into the document (Life begins on the third date.) Idealistic, because it presumes a perfect form of government.
Seitz-Wald eschews "judicial activism", and certainly there are problems with it. But it has served to make our system stable, but with a capacity to change.
Much is made of the crisis of the moment. But the longer arch of history is not so capricious.
We should mend the Constitution, not end it.