[Cross posted, with a poll, on Daily Kos]
Sometimes you have to pull way, way back and look at the big picture.
What that means is that you have to realize that, years from now, when people think back on these times, they’ll only have a dim understanding of what went on in our day. I’m not talking about the scholars and the political junkies, the historians and documentary filmmakers. I mean the everyday people who make up this country.
Do you remember your President Nixon?
Do you remember the bills you have to pay?
Or even yesterday?
This morning I was thinking about a poll I saw: Bush’s approval rating at an all-time low of 24%, Congress’ approval rating at half that and 2/3 of the poll respondents saying the country’s off on the wrong track. We have an intuitive sense that we’ve built our lives on the quicksand of fear, uncertainty and doubt. What’s worse is that it’s every man for himself and devil take the hindmost. It’s pretty discouraging. And I’m an optimist!
How did we get here?
And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!
Look at that poll: it’s saying is that the president has gone too far and isn’t listening to the public telling him to pull back. And it also says that the Congress hasn’t gone far enough and isn’t listening to the public telling them to push back. As a result, more people are shrugging their shoulders and walking away from the whole mess. Of course, this is fine with the corporatists who have always held power (more on that below).
Historians can debate the role of the radical Republicans which were a backlash against the Clinton years which were a backlash against the Reagan-Bush years which were a backlash against the Carter-Ford years which were a backlash against the Nixon years which were a backlash against the Johnson years, ad infinitum.
But answer is even simpler than that (if no less difficult to accept): more people than ever are watching and speaking out. The progressive netroots is a fine example of this. But what’s happening is that it is too easy for our elected leadership to hide and do nothing — or worse, do what’s best for their corporate sponsors.
I think the primary root of this is the fundamentally wrong idea that corporations are people and that they have all the rights that people have. They don’t (more on this below). Inertia also plays an important role here: our system of government makes it too easy for this to happen every day.
How can we fix this?
Maybe our form of government, as young as it is, is fundamentally flawed. Larry Sabato is one of the few establishment scholars who has come out and said it:
[T]he American political system is inequitable and doesn’t work very well. But it is unfair and doesn’t work well because the Constitution does not contain workable rules to govern it.
If we wanted to point fingers, we could place the blame for this deficiency squarely on the shoulders of the Framers. Yet that would also be unfair. The demands of their time were very different; we now need to redesign the Constitution to accommodate the political needs of our time.
Now, if you’re like me, you read a sentence like that with some apprehension. But I don’t think Sabato is a radical bomb-thrower — although he does quote at least one guy who was:
“No society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation…Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force and not of right.” —Thomas Jefferson (in a letter to James Madison from Paris, September 6, 1789)
Sabato does one good thing: he comes up with some specific course corrections that he calls “A More Perfect Constitution.” It’s a list of 23 proposals focusing on the Congress, the Presidency, the Supreme Court, and extending to our political system. He also calls for universal national service and (wait for it) a national constitutional convention.
I don’t agree (or disagree) with all of Sabato’s proposals. For one thing, he is fronting a symposium to promote his ideas (and his book) and the roster of attendees includes Samuel Alito, keynote speaker. No thanks.
That said, he is one of the few scholars who has come up with some concrete proposals. Here they are:
1. Expand the Senate to 136 members to be more representative: Grant the 10 most populous states 2 additional Senators, the 15 next most populous states 1 additional Senator, and the District of Columbia 1 Senator.
2. Appoint all former Presidents and Vice Presidents to the new office of “National Senator.”
3. Mandate non-partisan redistricting for House elections to enhance electoral competition.
4. Lengthen House terms to 3 years (from 2) and set Senate terms to coincide with all Presidential elections, so the entire House and Senate would be elected at the same time as the President.
5. Expand the size of the House to approximately 1,000 members (from current 435), so House members can be closer to their constituents, and to level the playing field in House elections.
6. Establish term limits in the House and Senate to restore the Founders’ principle of frequent rotation in office.
7. Add a Balanced Budget Amendment to encourage fiscal fairness to future generations.
8. Create a Continuity of Government procedure to provide for replacement Senators and Congresspeople in the event of extensive deaths or incapacitation.
9. Establish a new 6-year, 1-time Presidential term with the option for the President to seek 2 additional years in an up/down referendum of the American people.
10. Limit some Presidential war-making powers and expand Congress’s oversight of war-making.
11. Give the President a line-item veto.
12. Allow men and women not born in the U.S. to run for President or Vice President after having been a citizen for 20 years.
13. Eliminate lifetime tenure for federal judges in favor of non-renewable 15-year terms for all federal judges.
14. Grant Congress the power to set a mandatory retirement age for all federal judges.
15. Expand the size of the Supreme Court from 9 to 12 to be more representative.
16. Give federal judges guaranteed cost of living increases so pay is never an issue.
17. Write a new constitutional article specifically for the politics of the American system.
18. Adopt a regional, staggered lottery system, over 4 months, for Presidential party nominations to avoid the destructive front-loading of primaries.
19. Mend the Electoral College by granting more populated states additional electors, to preserve the benefits of the College while minimizing the chances a President will win without a majority of the popular vote.
20. Reform campaign financing by preventing wealthy candidates from financing their campaigns, and by mandating partial public financing for House and Senate campaigns.
21. Adopt an automatic registration system for all qualified American citizens to guarantee their right to vote is not abridged by bureaucratic requirements.
Universal National Service:
22. Create a Constitutional requirement that all able-bodied young Americans devote at least 2 years of their lives in service to the country.
National Constitutional Convention:
23. Convene a new Constitutional Convention using the state-based mechanism left to us by the Framers in the current Constitution.
It’s a pretty ambitious agenda, to say the least — and that last one, a Constitutional Convention, is (potentially) the riskiest one of all. Who would chair a convention like that? And, more importantly, how would you preserve the voice of the people when corporations hold so much power?
Sabato asked visitors to his website to offer a 24th proposal and here’s mine:
They are socially created institutions which were designed to, and should be made to, serve society’s interests.
Since democracy is supposed to be rule by the people, not by corporations, corporations should only receive democracy’s bedrock rights to the extent it furthers, or at least does not interfere with, civic power. They should not have a “right” to make political contributions or participate in the political process. They should not have “rights” to advertise. Their “right” to remain silent should never trump citizen interests in conveying information.
Since corporations are not people, they should never be able to bring defamation, slander or libel claims against real people, and certainly not against those who speak from non-economic motives. Injuries to a person’s reputation touch on person’s standing in the community and dignity; harms to ~ company’s goodwill are matters of economics. The idea that a corporation could sue a person for “disparaging” a food product should be laughed out of state and court houses across the United States.
And since corporations are not people, their “privacy rights” or similar privileges should, in general, be subordinate to the public’s right to know. Legal maneuvers such as secrecy agreements and environmental audit privileges should be banned. Corporations should not have the “right” to conceal information that could prevent the infliction of injury or disease.
“Rights” are the expression of a people’s or a constituency’s hard-won political gains, etched into democracy’s tablet of fundamental rules. Simultaneously, rolling back rights diminishes a constituency’s power. For the last two-and-a-half decades, corporations have won most of the important political conflicts in the United States, as well as around the world. It is time for citizens to organize and mobilize to reverse the corporate winning streak …
Well, there you have it — what’s wrong and some suggestions for fixing it.
What do you think?