|America, we've got some bad news: Our Constitution isn't going to make it. It's had 224 years of commendable, often glorious service, but there's a time for everything, and the government shutdown and permanent-crisis governance signal that it's time to think about moving on. "No society can make a perpetual constitution," Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison in 1789, the year ours took effect. "The earth belongs always to the living generation and not to the dead .… Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years." By that calculation, we're more than two centuries behind schedule for a long, hard look at our most sacred of cows. And what it reveals isn't pretty.
If men (and, finally, women) as wise as Jefferson and Madison set about the task of writing a constitution in 2013, it would look little like the one we have now. Americans today can't agree on anything about Washington except that they want to "blow up the place," in the words of former Republican Senator George Voinovich as he left Congress, and maybe that thought isn't so radical.
Put simply, we've learned a lot since 1787. What was for the Founders a kind of providential revelation—designing, from scratch, a written charter and democratic system at a time when the entire history of life on this planet contained scant examples of either—has been worked into science. More than 700 constitutions have been composed since World War II alone, and other countries have solved the very problems that cripple us today. It seems un-American to look abroad for ways to change our sacred text, but the world's nations copied us, so why not learn from them?
You can blame today's actors all you want, but they're just the product of the system, and honestly it's a wonder we've survived this long: The presidential election of 1800, a nasty campaign of smears and hyper-partisan attacks just a decade after ratification, caused a deadlock in the House over whether John Adams or Thomas Jefferson should be president. The impasse grew so tense that state militias opposed to Adams's Federalist Party prepared to march on Washington before lawmakers finally elected Jefferson on the 36th vote in the House. It's a near miracle we haven't seen more partisan violence, but it seems like tempting fate to stick with the status quo for much longer.
How would a parliamentary system handle a shutdown? It wouldn't have one. In Canada a few years ago, around the same time Washington was gripped in yet another debt-ceiling crisis, a budget impasse in Ottawa led to new elections, where the parties fought to win over voters to their fiscal plan. One side won, then enacted its plan—problem solved. Most parliamentary systems, which unify the executive and legislative branches, have this sort of fail-safe mechanism. If a budget or other must-pass bill can't get passed, or a prime minister can't be chosen, then funding levels are placed on autopilot and new elections are called to resolve things. The people decide. […]
If Americans managed to convoke [an Article V] constitutional convention, they could draw on hundreds of possible tweaks with text already written, available online thanks to the Google-funded Comparative Constitutions Project. After hundreds of tries, we (humans) have gotten so good at chartering governments that we've developed a set of best practices. Our Constitution violates many of them.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2004—Don't Mourn, Organize:
|Why were we in this fight in the first place? Because terrible leaders are doing terrible things to our country and calling this wonderful. Because radical reactionaries are trying to impose their imperialist schemes on whoever they wish and calling this just. Because amoral oligarchs are determined to enhance their slice of the economic pie and calling this the natural order. Because flag-wrapped ideologues want to chop up civil liberties and call this security. Because myopians are in charge of America’s future.
We lost on 11/2. Came in second place in a crucial battle whose damage may still be felt decades from now. The despicable record of our foes makes our defeat good reason for disappointment and fear. Even without a mandate over the past four years, they have behaved ruthlessly at home and abroad, failing to listen to objections even from members of their own party. With the mandate of a 3.6-million vote margin, one can only imagine how far their arrogance will take them in their efforts to dismantle 70 years of social legislation and 50+ years of diplomacy.
Still, Tuesday was only one round in the struggle. It’s only the end if we let it be. I am not speaking solely of challenging the votes in Ohio or elsewhere – indeed, I think even successful challenges are unlikely to change the ultimate outcome, which is not to say I don’t think the Democrats should make the attempt. And I’m not just talking about evaluating in depth what went wrong, then building on what was started in the Dean campaign to reinvigorate the grassroots of the Democratic Party, although I also think we must do that. I’m talking about the broader political realm, the realm outside of electoral politics that has always pushed America to live up to its best ideals and overcome its most grotesque contradictions. […]
It's tough on the psyche to be beaten.Throughout our country's history, abolitionists, suffragists, union organizers, anti-racists, antiwarriors, civil libertarians, feminists and gay rights activists have challenged the majority of Americans to take off their blinders.
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