There’s a political idea that should scare average Americans to death. Small groups of politicians and intellectuals on both sides of the aisle have decided that it is time to rewrite the U.S. Constitution. That’s right, folks these geniuses think they are smarter than the Founding Fathers and want to tinker with the document that guarantees our freedoms.
On the right, presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Texas Governor Greg Abbott have both endorsed something called the Convention of the States, which is also supported by around four state legislatures. Basically, the convention would try to write a number of stock conservative proposals designed to limit Congress’s power into the constitution.
On the left, a group called Wolf PAC is pushing a similar proposal that would write an amendment to overturn Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision it does not like, into the constitution. Sadly enough, Vermont’s state legislature has become the first to endorse the Wolf PAC scheme. The reason these groups want a convention is summed up best by the National Archives in this sentence:
“The Constitution provides that an amendment may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures.”
What Wolf PAC and “Citizens for Self-Governance” (the group behind the Convention of the States) are trying to do is make an end run around Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court to get legislation they want, that Congress would not pass, made into law. Wolf PAC wants Citizens United, which struck down federal limits on campaign contributions, overturned; Citizens for Self-Government is pushing the balanced budget amendment, term limits, and other restrictions on Congress’s power.
Redesigning the Government
The problem is not these groups’ goals, but the means they plan to use: a constitutional convention. The last time one was held in 1787, it completely redesigned the federal government and rewrote the basic law of the land. Okay, that was not so bad, because that system is still around and it has worked fairly well for nearly 230 years.
Something we forget today is that when the first Constitutional Convention was called, it was supposed to propose a few reforms to the existing federal government, the Continental Congress, not propose a new system of government. Yet that is exactly what happened.
This could occur because there is widespread frustration with our current gridlocked system of government on both the right and the left. Some people on the left would like to see our present Presidential form of government replaced with a parliamentary system like the one in Canada or Great Britain. Under a parliamentary system, the legislature, and not the people, elects the head of government.
A Recipe for Civil War
Many on the right like, Abbott, would like to give state legislatures more power over the federal government. Abbott would like legislatures to have the power to nullify acts of Congress, which sounds like a recipe for more gridlock and possibly civil war.
A similar doctrine called nullification was one of the things the South was fighting for in the Civil War. Slate’s Chief Political Consultant Jamelle Bouie correctly pointed out that Abbott’s proposal is an attempt to restructure the federal government to block Democratic majority rule. It was the Confederacy’s attempt to block Republican majority rule in 1861 that triggered the Civil War.
“On that score, it’s worth noting that this renewed push for both measures comes at a time the United States is becoming younger, browner, and more liberal,” Bouie pointed out. In other words, a convention could stoke political, regional, religious, and racial divisions like the ones that led to the 1861-1865 bloodbath.
Such thinking can quickly lead to dangerous radical ideas that could tear the nation apart. A constitutional convention is a dangerous Pandora’s box that should be kept nailed tightly shut. This is not hysteria something very similar triggered the French Revolution.
Please, Politicians, do Not Trigger a Second American Revolution or Civil War
Back in 1789, France’s King Louis XVI tried to straighten out his nation’s financial mess by recalling the Estates General, or parliament, that hadn’t met since 1614. Instead of solving the nation’s problems, the Estates General triggered a constitutional crisis that led to the French Revolution, civil war, all out war with other nations and Napoleon.
Like the American politicians demanding a constitutional convention, Louis XVI thought he could solve the nation’s problems with an untested assembly. Instead of resolving the crisis. Louis XVI created a bigger crisis. and he himself was one the many people killed during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror in which the radical politicians he had empowered slaughtered their enemies and each other.
Are We Smarter than the Founding Fathers?
Yet perhaps the best reason why a new Constitutional Convention is such a bad idea is laid out by Bouie in this intelligent statement:
“A successful constitutional convention requires a level of consensus and judicious thinking that doesn’t exist in modern American politics, at least not in great quantities.”
Simply put, it would impossible to get a group of people as smart, as astute, or as willing to compromise as the Founding Fathers together today. Recreating the miracle of the 1787 Constitutional Convention is probably impossible in today’s climate.
Average Americans need to send the politicians a strong message: Leave our Constitution alone. Instead, grow up and learn to work within the political system we’ve got. It’s worked fine for 230 years.