Thursday, April 15, 2010

I like the Constitution...

What I Like About the Constitution, by Ken Schenck :-)

1. The Preamble
This is a lovely eighteenth century social contract, literally entered by its signers and by the states that ratified it. Following Rousseau's sense of "tacit consent," all those who live within our borders (legal and illegal alike), implicitly agree to the contract. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." If you do not wish to abide by the contract, leave or face consequences.

I like the fact that the social contract is entered for the benefit of everyone in the society rather than for a certain privileged few. It is entered for the "general welfare," for the "common defense," to "secure the blessings of liberty." This implies that the government serves to guard these values. It also implies that no one has absolute freedom but we willingly surrender a modicum of our freedom for the mutual benefits of the union.

2. Division of Powers
I like the fact that our system of government combines the best of previous government in a balance of powers. The executive office provides the benefits of a monarchy without the potential detriment of a tyrant. The 22nd amendment was an excellent modification of the possibility that a president might be so continually reelected that he or she in effect becomes a king. I like that amendment!

The legislative branch provides the benefits of "rule by a few good individuals," the original meaning of the word aristocracy. At the same time, these individuals are elected by the populace, ensuring the benefits of a democracy. But these individuals and the president represent, which means they do not have to follow the whims of the fickle populace when they know it to be against the people's own best interest.

The judicial branch is a wonderful arbiter of the social contract. I love that Supreme Court justices are for life and so are relatively insulated from politics. I like the way the membership of the Supreme Court has a tendency to even out over time because of the interchange of presidents with opposing points of view.

I love the fact that no one of these bodies has autonomy over the others.

3. I love that the Congress has two bodies, one of which gives equal representation to the states and the other of which gives proportional representation.

4. I love that the 14th amendment took out the part about slaves being 3/5 a person and not counting "Indians."

5. I like that the house initiates impeachment but the Senate tries it (balance of powers).

6. I like that the president can veto and that the Congress can overturn the veto with a 2/3 vote.
7. I like the powers Congress has, which include the authority to raise taxes for the general welfare of the United States. I'm not too tickled about the 16th amendment, which allows for income taxes, but I accept it as necessary to "promote the general welfare."

You and I know something they did not, indeed, which was not really recognized until after President Reagan, namely, that high taxes are in general bad for the overall economy.

8. I like that the Constitution is amendable! They knew it might need changed and that there would be new issues that would require addressing. History has proven them right.

9. I like the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments, because this keeps us from being a ultilitarian country that is only interested in the greatest good for the greatest number. We are instead a "universal egoist" society that looks for the greatest good for all individuals by protecting individuals from instances where the greater good might harm a specific individual. The rules are set up for the general good while preventing individual harm.

10. I like that Congress cannot establish a particular religion as the religion of the country (as well as that all the states eventually severed their ties with specific forms of Christianity). History demonstrates that the wed-ding of specific religion with government often results in persecution or war (Thirty Years War). As an Arminian, I like a government that allows individuals freedom to chose God or not to chose God, remembering that the basic social contract does not allow us to harm each other.

I also agree that this is not the same as the kind of "separation of church and state" sometimes advocated today. It means that the state cannot favor any one religion over another, not that the state must try to be completely a-religious and certainly not anti-religious.

11. The 13th Amendment
There were many honorable southerners in the Civil War (e.g., Robert E. Lee) and no doubt many northerners were not paragons of virtue. However, those in the south who 1) refused to free and mainstream their slaves and who 2) argued that their states rights superceded the power of the federal government in such matters were in my opinion wrong. Perhaps more to the point, that interpretation of the Constitution lost the war. End of story.

I thus reject out of hand much of the current rhetoric that is reminiscent of the pre-Civil War South. It is tantamount to treason and cannot be tolerated if it moves beyond the realm of rhetoric. It is anti-Constitution despite its rhetoric of the Constitution.

12. The 15th and 19th Amendment (blacks and women can vote)
It is worth reminding ourselves that these amendments represent the "progressive" causes of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

To the researchers of the future, my detractors on this blog are actually nice people. They're just children of our age, as am I. :-)

13. The 21st Amendment (repeal of prohibition)
I like that amendments can be repealed. This is a warning that any attempt to impose on others an ethic that does not involve basic harm of others will lose in the long term.

Things I don't like
1. The electoral college. It should go.

2. I have serious reservations about the way the second amendment has recently been interpreted. I have no problem as long as it is not interpreted to prohibit serious regulation and prohibition of weapons in contexts where they are completely unnecessary and far more likely to result in harm. Nevertheless, this amendment is largely an artifact of another day and is a little like the OT prohibition against wearing clothing of mixed thread.

3. The jury system as currently practiced seems seriously flawed. Your peers are unreliable. We would do better to have some sort of mixed system such as they have recently enacted in Japan.


Nathan said...

A privileged few enter into a contract for everyone, which is ostensibly not just to benefit the privileged few. Right. Non-white, non-male persons excepted from "everyone" of course.

I'm with you on the 22nd amendment.

The legislative aristocracy will always be subverted by monetary influence, as all aristocracies inevitably are.

But worse, the judicial branch is hamstrung by the legislative branch. Certainly it prevents abuse, but it also prevents justice. Genuine restitution to the wronged happens mostly in civil court, and is inconsistent at best. At worst it is systematically subverted. Family courts are a disaster zone, destroying both parents and children. Victims of modern-day slavery (forced labor, forced prostitution, etc.) almost never receive compensation for their abuse. It's a mess, and I can't help but think that it's more than an administrative problem.

Without constitutional amendments, further revolutions would have been inevitable. A system founded on rebellion needs a way to prevent rebellion or it will self-destruct.

I'm with you on the 2nd amendment too: unregulated weaponry in an agrarian society is workable. Post-industrialized civilization, however, is an entirely different context. Without proper training and moral restraint, great harm can come by widespread gun ownership. The government has a strong interest in at least attempting to ensure that gun owners are responsible individuals. This is a complex topic in and of itself.

I'm more than with you on the jury system. In a highly specialized, technical society, our jury system faces numerous problems. Who should judge doctors, engineers, accountants, scientists? (Quite a list could be made.) Plus I'm guessing the founders didn't want women or uneducated persons on juries to begin with. Competence seems pretty important.

Christopher C. Schrock said...

Why don't you like the electoral college?

Anonymous said...

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes--that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. The National Popular Vote bill does not try to abolish the Electoral College, which would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3% of the U.S. population. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President (for example, ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote) have come about without federal constitutional amendments, by state legislative action.

The bill is currently endorsed by over 1,707 state legislators (in 48 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado-- 68%, Iowa --75%, Michigan-- 73%, Missouri-- 70%, New Hampshire-- 69%, Nevada-- 72%, New Mexico-- 76%, North Carolina-- 74%, Ohio-- 70%, Pennsylvania -- 78%, Virginia -- 74%, and Wisconsin -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Alaska – 70%, DC – 76%, Delaware --75%, Maine -- 77%, Nebraska -- 74%, New Hampshire --69%, Nevada -- 72%, New Mexico -- 76%, Rhode Island -- 74%, and Vermont -- 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas --80%, Kentucky -- 80%, Mississippi --77%, Missouri -- 70%, North Carolina -- 74%, and Virginia -- 74%; and in other states polled: California -- 70%, Connecticut -- 74% , Massachusetts -- 73%, Minnesota – 75%, New York -- 79%, Washington -- 77%, and West Virginia- 81%.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 29 state legislative chambers, in 19 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington. These five states possess 61 electoral votes -- 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


Anonymous said...

Every time I see an article of clothing that has become permanently wrinkled and thus unwearable because two different materials were sewed together and one shrunk faster than the other, I ponder how many of the laws were there because we're prone to pick vanity over prudence...and thus make premature waste.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I don't need to say anything at all:)!

Anonymous said...

The current system of electing the president ensures that the candidates do not reach out to all of the states. Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign events and ad money in just six states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). In 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states; over 80% in nine states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states, and candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states.
Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections.

Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.