I am working on a general blog post expressing my thoughts on the current liberal constitutional crisis facing much of the West right now but current events and recent writing suggests that I should draw attention to my somewhat breathlessly composed and highly self-important open-letter to Hillary Clinton that I wrote following the RNC national convention.
This jarring column by Frank Bruni of the New York Times, “Hillary Clinton’s Poisoned Prize” combined with the recent rolling implosion of the Trump campaign following the October 8th Washington Post video leak and resulting discourse has – for me made the points I raised in that letter even more worth considering.
Essentially, the U.S. constitutional system is suffering from a crisis of legitimacy. Some propose that drastic reform is needed if we are too correct this with ideas ranging from moving to a parliamentary system, to simply implementing proportional representation in the House of Representatives.
For my part, I believe such calls are radical and may entail unforeseen and undesirable consequences (some possibly serious), and moreover are only implementable through constitutional amendment. There is no way to make incremental progress.
As such, in my letter I call for Clinton to use the momentum and popular dischord as fuel to push through transformational constitutional reform that can be defended as being in line with the concerns and designs of the founders as seen as a perfection of their original vision. Specifically:
- Repeal the 1929 Permanent Reapportionment Act fixing the size of the House of Representatives to the same size it was in the 1910’s and commission a expansion or supplement to the U.S. Capital in the form of a U.S. Forum building to house a much larger House of Representatives. Such a House would permit more ‘average Americans’ to campaign for and win seats, as well as lowering the cost to alternative parties competing to enter Congress. Currently, fund-raising requirements to run an adequte House Campaign require partisan networks to be well established or for challengers to be independently wealthy. Together this will bring new ideas and new pressure on the major parties as was the case in our early history largely before the House became fixed in size.
- Advocate a “Right to Political Participation and Competition Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution which would consist of
- A clause setting a federal standard for voting eligibility in elections for federal offices so that felons that have served their time, those without IDs of a particular type, or any of the myriad of other classes of citizen do not experience different standards of citizenship between the states with regard to federal elections simply so state-level partisans can manipulate the electorate to favor their party.
- A clause explicitly guaranteeing and defining the right to a reasonably accessible polling place in elections for federal office (Congressional seats and the U.S. Presidency).
- A clause declaring election day and the Monday prior to it a strictly observed national holiday for all non-essential employees. A long weekend reserved for serious reflection and citizen involvement in non-economic purely citizenship oriented activities.
- A clause setting a federal standard for the apportionment of districts every 10 years using non-partisan commissions. At the hands of the major parties, state legislatures have abused the power and have vandalized the U.S. constitution following the Supreme Court’s decision in Vieth v. Jubelirer. Rather than the lower house being responsive to short-run concerns and popular enthusiasm, it’s composition is now determined every 10 years with the census, reflecting the balance of state legislatures rather than the unfiltered voice of popular passions. With a turn-over of the Senate happening only every 6 years, this makes the U.S. Presidency the most salient office in the land for the average voter. It is also the least accessible. Not only is this counter to the founding design of the framers, it is dangerous and corrosive to our democracy. The current Democratic Party plan to simply counter the GOP RedMap project with a counter BlueMap project simply fuels further cynicism in our process unnecessarily.
- A clause setting a far lower federal standard for ballot access for alternative political parties for federal offices (Congressional Seats and the U.S Presidency).
- A clause prohibiting the public funding of private party organizations’ nomination procedures. Political parties are and should remain private civic organizations. They should not have their internal elections paid for with public money. Moreover, fusing party organization with the constitutional apparatus is more a property of Marxist-Leninist constitutional theory than the Liberal Republican theory under-girding our Republic. Maintaining this system incorrectly reinforces the idea that these are the only state-sanctioned parties and that somehow our Republican form of Government is unthinkable save in terms of Democrats and Republicans.
- A clause committing the House of Representatives to have a number of seats determined by the cube root of the national population (rounding up to the next odd number)
- A clause that would invalidate the ruling of Citizens United and set a maximum amount that individuals may contribute to a candidate or party organization annually.
- A clause stripping the ‘personhood’ of corporations vis-a-vis political speech and preferably 14th Amendment protections generally.
- Promise to establish new constraints the American President’s capacity to use force abroad without consent of Congress – and particularly the use of drones.
- Promote and Support the American Anti-Corruption Act.
And to these I would now add a more half-baked notion:
5. Propose media regulations via the FCC requiring news organizations to devote at least 25% of news coverage to local politics, 25% to state level politics, and no more than 50% to national politics.
I go on to note that most of these modifications don’t require an amendment to the U.S. constitution in order to proceed. State level partisan organizations in state governments as well as Congress can begin experimenting with many of these reforms by statute. These proposals do admit comity and incrementalism. Most importantly they focus on the process by which decisions are made, and not the decisions themselves as many constitutional reform organizations tend to do with their concerns about ‘big government spending’ rather than the underlying rules of political competition that make popular control of spending so difficult.
More importantly, they move the locus of governance closer to the people, as individuals, giving citizens a greater self-governance, self-control, and opportunities for meaningful consequential participation.