Monday, June 7, 2010


I first got into politics in 1952 as a candidate for the Michigan State Legislature.

I filed petitions with over 2,000 signatures in order to get my name on the ballot, because I couldn’t afford the $100 filing fee.

I was a twenty-three year old law school senior with a wife expecting our first child, running as a Republican in one of America’s most Democratic strongholds.

I had no prayer of winning, but I didn’t know it. I got 60,000 votes, got nominated, got a favorable editorial, got a chance to meet Dwight Eisenhower and lost the election.

Over the next 14 years, I ran for public office seven more times, lost four, won three and ended up on the Michigan Supreme Court.

Even when I wasn’t running for office myself, I was involved in politics. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours and days in political campaigns.

My Dad was a precinct delegate. He taught me that public service is noble and that political activity is the high duty of citizenship.

The one aspect of politics I found most uncomfortable was asking for money. It was painful, but necessary. Money is the fuel that runs the engine of people power. And politics is all about people power.

There are only two ways to finance political activity: get a lot of dollars from a few people or get a few dollars from a lot of people.

The danger of the first method is that government may be corrupted to serve the self interest of the wealthy few. They will expect something in return for their support. Access. Favors. Exceptions. Special treatment. Subsidies and bailouts.

The danger of the second method is that government may be corrupted to serve the self interest of the politicians. They will use the power of government itself to manipulate public opinion, get themselves reelected over and over again. Become the ‘ruling class’ with special privileges and emoluments.

You don’t have to spend too much time on the Internet these days to discover that the American people are acutely aware that both of those thresholds have been crossed in Washington D.C.

What can we do about it?

The Founders of our nation knew that it is futile to outlaw sin and selfishness.

They wisely put their trust in a scheme called separation of powers. The idea was that the self interest of any one arm of government would be throttled back by the self interest of the other branches.

The executive would answer to the legislature, the legislature to the courts, the courts to the president. The federal government could be restrained by the states, the states by each other and by the people.

Separation of powers still works better than any other system as long as all the players assert their own self interest. Unhappily over the past fifty or sixty years, the states and the people have failed to do so.

The national government has swollen exponentially. All three branches of the federal government have perceived their self interest to lie in elevating the power of the national establishment.

A rising tide, they say lifts all boats. Extending the power of the national government increases the reach of all the federal departments. So when the issue is between the states and the federal government, or between the people and the federal government, all three branches of the federal government favor whom?

They favor themselves. That’s who.

Big surprise.

All of which brings me back to my main theme: the Article V convention. It’s the one power which the Founders gave to the states to protect themselves against an overweening national oligarchy.

And it’s an easy way to get into politics. For ten bucks a month you can be the James Madison or the Thomas Jefferson of the 21st Century. It beats shaking your fist at the sky.

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