Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Let's Change the Constitution!!

One of the things you hear constantly from the talk radio crowd is that they want to change the constitution. Forget it. That’s dead end stupidity. It can’t work and the moment you suggest changing the constitution, you lose the American public. Why? Because they don’t trust anyone monkeying with that document and they aren’t going to waste their time with people offering worthless and futile solutions. Let’s discuss the problems with advocating changes to the constitution.

Pointless: Right out of the gates, we have an insurmountable problem... this is a nonstarter. No matter how you slice it, any proposed amendment to the constitution must be approved by 3/4 of the states. That means 38 states. All it takes is 12 to stop it. There are 18 dark, dark blue states. There are 8 more rather blue states. That’s 26 blue states. There are 22 red states and two more up for grabs. See the problem? Nothing that isn’t agreed upon by both liberals and conservatives has a snowball’s chance in hell of passing, and the public knows this. So they immediately tune out the people who advocate it because they aren’t going to waste their time with fantasy and they aren’t going to trust the solutions of anyone who can’t distinguish fantasy from reality.

As an aside, this is the reason opportunistic politicians love to advocate constitutional changes. It sounds extreme and “pure” and it lets then outbid all the honest politicians, but it’s not anything they actually need to worry about because it will never happen. That means they can pound their chests with impunity.

Non-solution: From the public’s perspective, changing the constitution achieves nothing meaningful. Unlike the people screaming to change the constitution, the public correctly understands that the constitution is just a generalized set of rules that only decide who gets to make decisions, it does not decide what those decision are. In other words, the constitution is just about procedure, not substance. So trying to change the direction of government through the constitution is as futile as trying to change the outcome of a particular future baseball game by amending the rules of baseball.

And while some will think this is still a worthy goal, the public doesn’t. This is the same problem with the conservative instinct to argue for changes to House voting rules (“they need to read the bills!” “a bill should be less than 10 pages long!” etc.). Big whoop. The things the public wants fixed are things like creating more jobs, lowering the cost of healthcare, protecting the public from bad people... tinkering with the procedures of the constitution does none of that. Tinkering with the constitution is inside baseball.

Moreover, contrary to what “constitutional lawyers” like Mark Levin will tell you, it is impossible to change the direction of the government through the constitution. Take what you probably think of as the easiest thing to impose: a balanced budget requirement. How exactly would you do that? Putting aside the fact that the Supreme Court will strike down such a restriction because one Congress cannot bind a future Congress, there is still no way to define revenues and spending which will actually control government spending.

For one thing, both spending and revenues are estimated and the government can dramatically massage the numbers just by changing the basis of their estimates. For another, if you just demand a balanced budget, then that does nothing to control spending, which is the real issue. And how do you keep the government from just moving spending off the books, like they have with social security? And even if you could sort all of that out, which you can’t, what would be the penalty if the government just blows off your rules?

These problems get even worse once you move to more complex issues. Want to rein in the government’s power to regulate? How are you planning to redefine “commerce” that doesn’t hopelessly cripple the government by giving people a roadmap for how to evade regulations but still reduces the scope of the word without giving the feds a way to evade your new restrictions? Here’s a hint: you can’t.

There are things you can do to make it harder or easier for the government to act, but let me assure you that none of these “constitutional lawyers” knows what those are. When they talk to you about changes, they are playing you for fools. They are selling you placebos that sound good, but have no meaning and can’t be implemented in any meaningful way. And the fact the public isn’t interested and that the blue states will never let you do it, and it should be clear this is futile.

Optics: The Loser Label: Finally, when people advocate constitutional change as a way to circumvent the democratic process, they will be seen as sore losers. Essentially, they can’t win the public so they are trying to change the rules to take the public out of it. That’s bad PR. And if you don’t believe this is what the public will think, then ask yourself what you thought whenever the Democrats tried to get courts to impose their ideas or when they change the voting rules to give themselves an advantage... that’s how the public will views this: as an attempt to use the constitution to push something you couldn’t get through the political process.

This is why the people advocating constitutional change are wrong. They are telling you they can change the world with changes that are ultimately impossible to get and meaningless if they could somehow be gotten. Meanwhile, not only won’t the public support you, they will actually see you as a fool who can't separate reality from fantasy and who wants to sneak their ideology into place against the public’s will.

Also, let’s kill this idea of a constitutional convention. A sizable group on our fringe have been advocating a constitutional convention because they incredibly believe that they would be chosen as the ones to rewrite the constitution they claim to love. Ha! Who do you think California will send? Mark Levin or Nancy Pelosi? What about Massachusetts? Sarah Palin or Barney Frank? If we convened a constitutional convention, all 26 blue states would send far-left liberals. A third of the 22 red states would send Tea Party crazies. A third would send Religious Right zealots. The remaining third would probably send a mix of Democrats and moderate Republicans. Guess what kind of constitution you’re going to get out of this? It’s going to be a Democratic wish list. It’s going to look like a repeat of the European constitution which was a million pages long and made clean air, union membership, public masturbation and clean socks a human right. And the only hope for America will be that enough red states refuse to sign onto the new one.

Yeah, that will be fun.

There are no shortcuts in life or in government. If you want conservatism to restore America to her glory, then you need to do it in the only way you can achieve anything in a democracy... win over the public and make belief in conservatism irresistible.


Anthony said...

Nice essay. I'm not a lawyer, but I have two brain cells to rub together (some say three) and I don't see how a political divisions that keep easy to pass legislation from happening would somehow magically disappear for much harder to pass constitutional amendments.

Also, I'm one of those cynics who thinks that laws only mean (and apply to) what people agree that they mean and that such interpretations change all of the time (liberals and conservatives constantly come up with novel readings which support their goals).

Patriot said...

Andrew....With respect. One of the things I like about this site (other than the movie reviews!) is the fact that you, as the prime moderator, usually have a balanced, albeit conservative leaning, view of American politics. Very moderate...need I say it...very "legalistic" point of view. The essay above typifies that view.

If we throw you back to the founding times, I'm sure you would be one of the main voices counseling petitioning the crown until our grievances were met. "Follow the rules.....It won't do us any good to push for independence as we are part of Great Britain. Fight the power from within. Use the existing laws to fight the British." Similar to an early Ben Franklin...until he was humiliated by the British while petitioning Parliament.

Political causes are also made up of passion. Normal people fed up with the current process and yearning for change. Something "outside the box" as it were. Those ordinary citizens at the time that had soldiers taking over their homes, destroying their crops, abusing their families, they were the ones that sparked the actual revolution. They were just waiting for something, anything, to change the order of things.

So, again, with respect, what would your counsel have been for the people who made the tea party raid in Boston Harbor? Would you have counseled against such rash action? That it would be a desperate move and not accomplish anything? That we should should continue using the current system to air our grievances against the Stamp Act and fight them in court?

My point is, desperate people will do desperate things, and think of radical ways to disrupt the current system, because they see that system becoming more and more entrenched and powerful. While everything you say about the constitutional convention above is true, I see it as desperate people trying something, anything, to try and wrest back their country from the forces of an overbearing, abusive government. Similar to what was going on in the 1760's.

I agree with your "agenda." It would make a great start to re-establishing the freedoms that our original revolution brought us. But I really don't see half the country reading, much less understanding your proposals. And our current crop of "leaders" don't lead. They use the system to gain more power or follow the current zeitgeist of what they are told the "people" want (always more of what the left wants of course).

I'm not a zany anarchist, but I believe there are many who feel left out, abused and taken advantage of and are just waiting for the spark to light that same revolutionary fire as back then. At that point, all the counsel of "we must negotiate" will go out the window and who knows what will happen.

Critch said...

I tell the "change the Constituion" folks al lthe time that there is no way we can trust the people that would likely be sent to hammer it out...there is no way we could approach the level of intelligence that hammered out the first one. We don't have any Adams, Jeffersons, or all.

Patriot said...

Critch.....Those guys were pretty amazing. I like to read accounts of how they bargained, cajoled and bought off each other during the constitutional convention. Franklin, because he was getting on in years at the time, basically sat back, made a few pithy comments, brought up salient points to consider and kept the convention going through his mere presence.

I guess the question is, do times make the man or do men make the times? Maybe we do have our Adams, Jefferson and Franklins in our time. Maybe we just don't recognize them yet, as their moment has not arrived. Look at Yeltsin in the old USSR. Someone who definitely took advantage of the times and came out of the blue to become leader. Obviously, he's no founding father, as it were, yet he stepped up and seized the moment.

I think when the moment comes, we will see the same thing here. Some one or more people, will seize the moment and embody all the anger, disaffection and disgust with the current system and politicians and then change will begin. It seems that's what the idiots who elected Obama the first time were hoping for (suckers), yet he flim-flammed them with his vague history and marketing b.s.

I really don't see the change coming through the existing system...change the system from within must needs come through from outside the political class. If only we had an eminent scientist who "discovered" some amazing technology, was a regular Joe or Josephine and espoused common sense their whole life to lead the movement, then we would have another Franklin. Our Franklin will be different, but I believe he or she is out there.

tryanmax said...

I think we already have a small crop of "ideas conservatives" already in Washington. It's just a matter of whether the rest of the party realizes they are the ones to turn to. Whether men make the times or the other way around, it's got to be a combination of the two. Certainly there are smart, capable men in all times and places. But whether the public listens to them is a matter of the zeitgeist.

BevfromNYC said...

Remember though our "Founders" debated in a bubble without the distraction of outside observers weighing in on every syllable they uttered too. I think there are men and women ({{clears throat}} who are capable of "upgrading" the system from within AND from the outside. But until we have "leaders" who are willing to listen to all sides, we will not be able to change or upgrade anything.

We are run by the irrationality of public opinion, not facts or reason. There is no problem solving by the middle ground for the greater good right now. Partly because we have no leadership at the top and no statesmen on either side willing to compromise for fear of losing power.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, Thanks! I don't understand that either. It doesn't make any sense that you can get something from a procedure that requires even greater consensus if you can't already get it with the regular procedure.

It reeks of a con to me. It reeks of political opportunists exploiting the public's lack of knowledge of how the document works to make promises that sound like they might work because they say things like "Once Washington's out of it... we can do it."

To give you an interesting example, when Levin wrote his latest book, which is about how we just need to make a few changes to the constitution to restore conservative America, he originally went around talking about how these changes could be made through a constitutional convention -- since they can't be made through the normal amendment process.

People who understood the problem with this, immediately called him on it. Levin retreated and started dancing: he'd never said he want a "constitutional convention" per se (false). Instead, he wanted a sort-of-constitutional convention (no such thing)... which isn't really a convention as such, but where solid conservative states got together and passed this thing into the constitution (impossible, you strip blue states of the vote).

What he ended up doing was saying that there is a mechanism to amend the constitution which has never been used (true) and no one knows how it works (false) so ____ and then he filled in with fantasy.

All the mechanism in question does is allow states to initiate constitutional change, but once they do, it goes through a normal process. He was implying that since "no one knows" how it would work, it could somehow result in reel 'merkicans doing this "without Washington establishment interference." That's totally false. But I'm betting that none of his listeners had a clue that this was false.

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, Desperate people are also stupid and vulnerable people, and when opportunists step in to sell books and score ratings by promising them impossible solutions and stoking their stupidity, I don't honor them with overblown allusions to them being like giants of the past... I point out that they are full of shit and they are selling poison.

If they are like anything in the past, it's the snake oil salesmen of the old west, not the anything connected to the founding of this country.

If you really believe that there are these desperate people who want to change things, then go lead them. Find ways that actually can work... stop hoping for the impossible. Stop being lemmings.

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, Exactly. And even if we did, what makes anyone think we would send them. Consider this: look at the people in our political system right now. Those are the same people who would be chosen for a constitutional convention. That means a mix of opportunists, whack job single-issue ideologues, and perverts... Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Chris Christie, Harry Reid, Al Franken, Christopher Dodd, Barney Frank, Jerry Brown, John Boehner, Ted Cruz. That's your line up.

The problem with the change-the-constitution crowd is that they think that somehow they would control who gets chosen and it would be their favorite talk radio hosts and a couple conservative heavy weights. But that will never happen.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I think conservatism is making it really hard for those people to emerge right now because groups like talk radio make conservatism hateful and reactionary, so the thinkers are drown out by the screamers, and the screamers have no idea what they want except to reject any idea.

I had hopes for Rubio that he would stand firm against the idiots, because I think the public would have rewarded them, but he caved. Ryan seems unwilling to take them on. Jindal is taking them on but the media (conservative and otherwise) ignores him. Rand Paul is still playing small ball. That leaves Cruz and Christie... a choice of lesser evils.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, What are women? ;-)

What you say is a real problem. Right now, it pays for both sides to push as far to their flanks as possible. As a result, neither party pushes anything the public wants and neither party can escape their own suicide pacts because they've made any sense of moderation, in any form, as heresy. The result is the most dysfunctional government our government has been since before the Civil War.

Ironically, all this screaming about needing to change everything only guarantees that the system won't change. "The establishment" must be laughing their butts off at the "genuines" on either side for playing into their hands.

Patriot said...

Oh....and Andrew....I don't subscribe to Levin's idea of a convention. Hopeless cause.

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, I hear what you're saying about passion, but passion is meaningless if it has no plan that can work. And the people selling this stuff are lying to you about it working. They are also lying to you when they tell you that being a tiny extremist party will work. You cannot succeed in America without winning over the public.

AndrewPrice said...

OT Update: Wow! The Obamacare numbers are horrible! 26,794 signed up for private insurance through the main website. That's half of the disastrous numbers leaked the other day.

Another 80k signed up for Medicaid.

Train wreck...

BevfromNYC said...

As per Huffpo "...106,185 people had chosen a private health insurance plan using the health care reform law's troubled exchanges" but, but, but STOP READING HERE most of those people haven't actually bought insurance as in sign the papers and paid that pesky 1st premium, but we will count them anyway. Because if we don't, it will look like a complete and utter failure that only 26K people signed...oops, did I say that out loud?

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, The AP headlines are claiming 106k as well, but once you start reading you see the number is actually 26k. Ironically, even 106k is an utter failure. It's the difference between an F and an F-.

Cronickain said...

The idea of a president is as outdated as a monarch. It's time we changed to limit the federals across both sides of the aisle and a massive cut in federal budget is in order. I advocate changing the parts of our law that grant term limits. I say there should be one term and it should be done with no chance of succession. Then we can stop playing house with our government and marry the damned thing. Maybe then someone will keep an eye on the kids when a responsible parent is watching.

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