Do We Need A New Constitution?

Larry J. Sabato, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, seems to think so, and he’s even written a book about it. However, some of his complaints indicate that he simply doesn’t understand that the document was designed for different purposes than he wishes it to be:

The Senate is horribly undemocratic. Because each state elects exactly two senators, thinly-peopled rural states wield disproportionate influence. If the 26 smallest ones stick together, they have a majority of votes despite representing only 17% of Americans. Mr Sabato wants to restore some fairness by giving extra senators to big states.

Actually, Larry, the Senate was designed for the system of federalism, where the goal was for States to keep Washington from running roughshod over their jurisdiction just because more populous states wanted something. Granted, the 17th Amendment and most of the New Deal and beyond have turned the States into little more than lines on a map, since everything now IS run from Washington. But the point of the Senate was not to be “democratic”, it was to offer a place where more cool-headed people beholden to State interests rather than directly to the public could temper the fluctuating flame of shifting public demands.

Not content with rejigging the building blocks of government, Mr Sabato also wants to lay constitutional obligations on individual citizens. All able-bodied young Americans should have to do two years of national service, he argues, either in the army or pursuing some other public good.

Ahh, I see, because his desire is to ensure that, beyond all the conditioning that our students receive in the [unconstitutional] public schooling they endure until age 18, the needs to brainwash them further into the “social contract” by imposing unnecessary obligations onto them. After all, if you start them young enough, you can teach them that freedom means only what Larry Sabato believes it means. If he really wanted to solve this one, he could do so quite easily be repealing the 13th Amendment. Not that I think Larry would get a lot of love if he put that on a bumper sticker, though!

But all this dances around the second problem. A few of Sabato’s suggestions were good, such as finding a way to reduce gerrymandering of districts, which turn House seats into fiefdoms. And his call is not for some halfway approach to the problem.

But Mr Sabato does not want us to pick one or two of his suggestions. He wants to call a second constitutional convention to rethink the entire document bar the Bill of Rights. The current approach of piecemeal amendments is not working, he says. Very few pass, and many that are proposed are foolish: think of the amendment to ban flag-burning. No, what America needs is a grand meeting of clever and high-minded people to draw up a new, improved constitution better suited to the 21st century.

A “grand meeting of clever and high-minded people”? I’m sure a lot of “politics professors” will be invited to such a thing.

I thought, a year or two ago, that perhaps the answer is another Constitutional Convention. I thought that we’ve misinterpreted the document so horribly that it might be time to spell out the limits on government that our Constitution enshrines explicitly, to take these decisions out of the hands of Supreme Court justices that constantly stretch the meaning of the document to fit ever-wider government. But there’s a problem with that approach. The type of people I would want to write the new Constitution probably wouldn’t be allowed in the room, and we’d end up with a document that enshrines “positive liberty” and obligations on individuals that make our current Leviathan seem like the Ritz Carlton.

We don’t need a new Constitution, and the call to create one is an invitation to velvet-gloved tyranny.

  • TanGeng

    The asymmetrical representation in the House and the Senate does present a very interesting situation where the Senate often acts as a blockade and gatekeeper over the more unrestrained activities of the House of Representatives. It’s a wonderful (and perhaps unintended) outcome of the Connecticut compromise.

    Perhaps the first step that needs to be taken is for the Congress to recognize the Constitution and abide by it before asking for a new document. Perhaps the executive should learn some restraint both abroad and at home. And perhaps the people would wise up and stop calling for government to help them when it can never effectively do so.

  • Stephen Littau

    If we follow the constitution we have, most of the problems we have will take care of themselves.

    Great post Brad!

  • Doug Mataconis

    Sabato has been kicking this idea around for awhile now, I didn’t realize he’d written a book about it.

    And Sabato should know better — his assertion that a Constitutional Convention could be limited in such a way as to keep the Bill of Rights from being touched completely ignores history. As Sabato should know, the 1787 Convention’s original charter was simply to suggest amendments to the Articles of Confederation —- even before it started Madison and the others knew that what they would really be doing is writing an entirely new charter of government.

    A Constitutional Convention in today’s day and age would be nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for liberty.

  • Brian T. Traylor

    It’s quite amusing to hear a politics professor bitch about how the Senate isn’t democratic. It was designed that way! The meddling of those damned progressives during the years leading up to WWI has done much to lead us down the road to serfdom. With the exception of the 19th, all of the “progressive amendments” only served to steer us off a path of prosperity.

    I can’t imagine much of anything worse than a constitutional convention at this point in time.

  • Doh-San

    “Because each state elects exactly two senators, thinly-peopled rural states wield disproportionate influence. If the 26 smallest ones stick together, they have a majority of votes despite representing only 17% of Americans. Mr Sabato wants to restore some fairness by giving extra senators to big states.”

    If Mr. Sabato were half as clever as he’d like us all to believe, he’d realize that the House exists to do exactly what he wants the Senate to be modified to do.

  • David Wilson

    put beautifully!

  • Greg

    Its called checks and balances…

    Sabato sounds like the worst kind of socialist.

  • Craig

    The change I’d like to see is to allow non-geographic-governing entities a chance to enter the federal republic. In other words, let people form their own state-level governments, regardless of where in the US they live. If you get 600,000 people signed up (or whatever the number is), you get a Representative in Congress. You also set your own rules. We can choose our banks and our insurance companies, why not our government?

    What about crimes and torts, when people in these self-selected governments are involved with people in the traditional geographically-based governments? The jurisdiction of the victim (or the plaintiff) would prevail. No harm caused = no case.

    Just think if everyone who wants to vote for Ron Paul could actually get to live in a government presided over by him.

    It’s time to think outside of lines on the map.