Friday, January 27, 2006

A Different Road

Sitting around waiting for the Democrats to show some indications of spine in the Senate, to organize a filibuster against the Alito nomination, to reconcile and prioritize the 2008 maybe's with the 2006 realities, is surely frustrating. I liked the email I got several days ago asking me to write to my local newspaper and tell them that the road to the Presidency (in 2008) is paved with today's good deeds and filibusters. I disliked the add from New Republic saying that there is more than Alito at stake. It seems to me that the New Republic is paving the way for more Senators to give way and follow Diane Feinstein and the DLC into the ranks of those voting with the opposition. Sometimes you have to stand up on your hind legs and bellow: Enough is enough!

But this is not about Diane. It is about the frustrations with the system when it is working so poorly as it seems to be today. It raises the question that Doug Thompson and others are raising out there across the internet. The question is whether our Constitution is fundamentally flawed. It was written, after all, without considering the huge effects that technology, mega-money, corporations, and political parties would have on the Constitution's underlying principle of separation of powers into distinct branches of government and its corollary, the principle of checks and balances? If these mechanisms cannot be brought to bear in time to head off a arrogation of complete power to the Executive, the so-called doctrine of "the unitary executive," then it may take a generation or two for matters to redress themselves. It should be quickly said, though, there is no guarantee that the system will ever self-correct, since the attack this time has been so concerted against the theoretically-opposing branches of government, the freedom of speech and press, and the mechanism of elections. There may not be any skin of our teeth left!

But, let us say today that Representatives come to their senses and remember their oaths of office, and do initiate articles of impeachment against George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney. Let us say, also for purposes of argument, that one or both are impeached, tried in the Senate, and found unacceptable for continuation in office. And, let's say that there is no military activity to protect the President or Vice President from the consequences of their high crimes, misdemeanors, and treasons, despite probable attempts of Donald Rumsfeld to orchestrate a coup d'etat. What better time, then, to consider a serious revamping of the Constitution to bring it into the modern technological and political reality. Certainly all the issues surrounding the viability of the Constitution will have been aired and re-aired during the impeachment trial. After an impeachment there could scarcely be a person on the planet that did not know the United States of America is in the repair shop.

I am saying, also, that there is a growing consensus that the country is losing confidence in the system established by the Constitution. This is now, after all, a world where office-holders and candidates will pledge their allegiance more strongly to political party than to the Constitution and where government can have access to the private thoughts and concerns of its citizens at the flick of a switch!

Could we have a Constitutional Convention in 2007, say, and who would go? It would interesting, for instance, to declare in advance that no more than 5% of the members of each house of Congress could be selected to the Convention— 5 senators and 21 representatives. Certainly the judiciary would be interested, but who? Perhaps one of the Supremes and six more from elsewhere in the federal courts. An exPresident and an exVicePresident in good standing would be good. Then you would have representation from labor, corporations, academe, the scientific world, the technological world, the military, the press, the humanitarians and the medical world, even the arts. Perhaps you would have eleven recently graduated high school seniors from around the country. Perhaps it would be a good idea to include a representative the top five most popular religious sects during some base year like the year 2000. Probably not more than 300 persons all told, one for every million Americans.

The day-to-day proceedings of the Convention would be secret. Leaks would be punished by expulsion from the proceedings. There probably will be some who would be expelled for one reason or another, and it will have grave consequences both inside and outside the Convention. Perhaps it will be seen as necessary to sequester the group, perhaps in Hawaii, and sequester those who are ejected in Fargo, North Dakota. Deaths or illness resignations would be replaced per constituency. There would be weekly televised statements made by rotating spokespersons. An electronic record of the proceedings would be kept and made public later, probably after any general election regarding the outcomes of the Convention. Monthly, a panel of spokespersons would present a statement and would hear the questions of all of us waiting outside.

It would be complicated to set up, but no more complicated than sending astronauts to the moon and back. It would be nerve-wracking, because no one would know how the group would respond to this the biggest of questions: How are we to govern the United States of America and its human, intellectual, and material resources?

It should be obvious that some, the neocons particularly, have already considered this problem. They may have done so recently, but I think they did it about a decade ago, but perhaps a quarter of a century ago. Their conclusion was, of course, that a fair discussion of our government cannot be accomplished in a way that guarantees the prosperity of corporations and themselves. They have taken a different road.

James Richard Brett