I called a meeting and nobody came.
Well, not exactly nobody. Eight out of fifty. Hardly a quorum.
Early this year, with a few gracious friends, I started a non profit corporation called Convention USA. The idea is to conduct a convention on the Internet which will propose needed amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
The Internet is full of proposals to amend the Constitution. Some worthy and serious. Some not so sensible. Still there are lots of them and literally thousands of people touting one or the other.
My idea is different. I felt, and still feel, that there is a need for some serious statecraft in America.
I’m not talking about the sexy, hot button issues, the stuff of the hard right or the far left. I’m talking about boring, technical, procedural changes. I’m talking about the nuts and bolts of good government, the kinds of changes that will protect our federal republic from the ravages of time, corruption, drift, ignorance, self interest and just plain laziness.
Convention USA is open to all citizens of the United States. They are not identified by party affiliation or philosophical disposition. This is not a bi-partisan effort with an aisle running down the middle to separate the majority and the minority. This is a non-partisan enterprise, in which each delegate is known only as an interested citizen.
I know. I know. Folks tell me that you can’t find a roomful of people these days who don’t have strong opinions about what’s wrong with our government. The eight delegates who checked in at the meeting last Sunday, God bless them, are not bashful about sharing their opinions.
But there were forty-two others who didn’t show up. They are exactly the kind of folks we need to make this convention work. They are the silent majority. America’s vast reservoir of common sense. They are the people who can build a consensus in favor of nitty gritty constitutional reforms that can make our government work better no matter which party elects the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate.
We need to look at all three branches of the federal government and see what can be done to make sure they exercise only those powers the Founders intended to give them.
Start with the Congress. Does anyone, liberal or conservative, really think that members of Congress should vote on bills they have never read?
And who really is in favor of omnibus legislation that includes thousands of unrelated subjects? Most state constitutions specify that every bill must be limited to a single subject or purpose, which must be stated in its title. This is simply a question of good legislative practice. It belongs in the Constitution where it can’t be changed by the very people it is meant to discipline.
And how about the Supreme Court? Who doesn’t want our highest court to be truly non partisan, or at least as non-partisan as humanly possible? Haven’t we seen enough of the wrangling and mud slinging associated with the political process of appointment and confirmation?
Criticism of activist judges on the Supreme Court usually comes only from the other side of the issue. Conservatives excoriate judicial activism when the judges are liberal, and vice versa. We need to explore ways to bring the brightest and the best judges from all across America to the high court. We need Justices who do not come to the court with a political agenda
Every one of the nine current Justices of the United States Supreme Court attended either the Harvard or the Yale law school. Is it really in the best interest of the nation to allow two universities such inordinate influence on the development of our constitutional law?
Felix Frankfurter, when a law teacher, famously observed, “The Supreme Court is the Constitution.” If this is what graduates of Harvard and Yale believe, how can we expect the Court to respect the words of the Constitution or the intent of those who ratified it?
If the legislative and judicial branches of the federal government need fixing, the executive branch needs even more attention.
The founders explicitly shunned the idea of creating an American monarchy. George Washington himself refused even to consider the possibility. But what is the modern Imperial Presidency in the United States?
The President of the United States is routinely designated as “the most powerful person on the planet.” He is Commander in Chief of the world’s most potent military forces. He has his finger on the big red button which can launch a cataclysmic global holocaust.
To millions around the world, he is more popular than a rock star and more infallible than the Pope.
But for the fact that his term of office is limited, the President of the United States has all the indicia of a monarch. His family in ensconced in a hallowed palace. His wife has a multi-million dollar bevy of ladies in waiting who attend to every detail of courtly life from wardrobe to hairdressing to social scheduling.
A fleet of jet airplanes stands ready to carry him wherever he chooses to go. His entourage dwarfs that of any king or potentate on earth.
He appoints legions of aids and special assistants who work not for the government, but for the President. He makes them czars over the economy, the environment, technology and terrorism. While the Constitution permits the Congress to authorize the President to hire “inferior officers” without confirmation, the title “czar” suggests a level of power and authority which is hardly inferior.
There are no quick and easy fixes to these problems. They need cautious, deliberative attention and analysis. Proposed amendments must be examined by many pairs of eyes and debated well and seriously if they are to earn the support of the American people.
Constitutional reform is no sport for the short winded or the faint of heart.
But America is worth the effort.