Maybe Politics Can’t Fix This   Leave a comment

Although I vote in every election, I am not all that interested in partisan politics … hence the non-partisan designation on my voter registration card.

Consequently, I’m not really all that focused on who is going to replace Barack Obama in 2016. I waver back and forth between believing he’s going to refuse to leave office (like the supreme leader I believe he wants to be) or he’s going to essentially be replaced by someone of his choosing (like the totalitarian party leader I believe he wants to be). I can think of a few liberty-leaning candidates I would like to see run, but as we’re in the 20-year Democratic portion of the American psychotic political cycle, I’m thinking they’ll never be nominated by the GOP and third-parties just can’t make the ballot under current ballot access laws. So why get all lathered about politics? It won’t matter what we the people want. We have no control over the political cycle.

Maybe it won’t matter, though. Maybe we the people are going to seize control of our own government by doing something we haven’t done in over 200 years.

December 7, 2013, nearly a hundred state legislators, representing 32 states, assembled at Mount Vernon, the homestead of George Washington, just outside the nation’s capital city.

Why? To discuss how to safely revive an overlooked, but invaluable, provision in the United States Constitution that would allow a supermajority of states to rein in a power-drunk federal government.

According to a press release issued after the Assembly’s adjournment, “They emphasized the importance of any convention being done in a way that accomplishes the will of the people while protecting the sanctity of the Constitution, as this action could ultimately lead to proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as authorized under Article V. The subject matter of what those amendments would be was not discussed.”

What a great idea? Plan for an Article V convention, but don’t discuss the possible amendments because the first priority ought to be establishing how to safely conduct this amendment process.  Once prudent ground rules are established, then delegates can consider substantive proposals.

They picked a great venue as George Washington presided over the original Constitutional Convention. Now, lawmakers from a majority of states assembled at his estate to address the issue of how to bring Washington DC back into alignment with the vision of Washington and his fellow founders.

The Mount Vernon Assembly is a noble exercise in federalism. They plan to meet again later this spring, so the present tense is appropriate.

Some will argue that the United States of America is a single nation that is indivisible, but the very title suggests we are 50 states cooperating with one another. The founders didn’t name us the Republic of America. We are 50 states cooperating under a federal government.

Is the federal government out of control?  

Well, there’s evidence that we are. From 1789 to 1900, the federal government spent $15 billion cumulatively. In 2011, the federal government spent $10 billion a day. Sure, you can adjust for population and inflation, but the very fact that we spent more every two days than we did in our entire first century as a nation should make you pause and ask if this is what our Founders set forth and our early statesmen delivered.

Thoughtful Americans of all political stripes find this profligacy sobering. Some of us are sickened by it. Even after adjusting for inflation and population, it is impossible to argue that the federal government has not ballooned well beyond the scope contemplated by the founders. Moreover, students of history and political science recognize that such spending and the debt we’re accumulating with it has destroyed other nations.

What can we do about it? Collapse, revolution … or a third way. Enter the Mount Vernon Assembly.

Some, especially on the left, are attempting to blame federal government dysfunction on the Constitution. Google “Our Broken Constitution” by Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker, a stroke through a myriad of somewhat justifiable complaints about America’s founding document.  In it, he argues that the Constitution is old and out-of-date and we should just toss it off and start letting the President call the shots by tossing dice on the White House steps. Okay, that last part is my interpretation of his words. I think the federal government is what’s broken and the Constitution provides the means to bring it back into alignment, because the US Constitution can be amended.

Many Americans feel thwarted by their federal government, feeling the federal government is out of touch with the “consent of the governed.” The Declaration of Independence cites the “consent of the governed” as the source of government legitimacy. Does Congress, with a 9% approval rating, still have the consent of the governed?

Our Founders foresaw a time when Congress would have a 9% approval rating and be unwilling to do anything about government dysfunction. They wrote a mechanism into the Constitution designed to rectify this very problem. Article V allows a supermajority of States – 34 to call a convention to propose amendments, 38 to ratify proposed amendments — to trump an obstructionist federal government and amend the Constitution. The Constitution states:

on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which … shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof….

This provision was inserted at the insistence of liberty-minded Virginia delegate George Mason. According to the Convention records, Mason thought that, if left up to Congress itself, “no amendments of the proper kind would ever be obtained by the people, if the Government should become oppressive, as he verily believed would be the case.” In response, Gouverneur Morris and Elbridge Gerry made a motion to amend Article V to introduce language requiring that a convention be called when two-thirds of the state legislatures petitioned Congress.

This authority of the states to amend the constitution was praised by James Madison multiple times in Federalist #43 — “It, moreover, equally enables the general and the State governments to originate the [Constitutional] amendment of errors, as they may be pointed out by the experience on one side, or on the other.” 

Wisconsin state Representative Chris Kapenga conceived and chaired the Mount Vernon assembly.  Kapenga said in an interview with Forbes:

About a year ago, I visited Mount Vernon for the first time.  I sat on the same porch where George Washington sat with companions such as James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton.  It inspired me and made me think about how we are dealing with issues now similar to those they were dealing with then: issues of balance.  Then, America had to strengthen its federal government.  Now, the federal government’s power has grown excessive.  The states need to step up and re-balance matters.

That sounds like federalism at its finest, but Phyllis Schlafly responded in Human Events with: “Alas, I don’t see any George Washingtons, James Madisons, Ben Franklins or Alexander Hamiltons around today who could do as good a job as the Founding Fathers, and I’m worried about the men who think they can.”

I found that sort of insulting to the intellect and integrity of the state legislators who participated and led the Mount Vernon Assembly. I greatly admire those who wrote and ratified the US Constitution, but I don’t think greatness died when they did. 

Harry Truman once observed, “A statesman is a politician who has been dead ten or fifteen years.” The jurist Learned Hand gave an immortal speech, The Spirit of Liberty, before a million-plus crowd in Central Park in 1944 on “I Am an American Day, ” observing: “I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.”

An Article V amendment process is a function of citizen dignity — ‘power to the people.” It leans neither left nor right.  It is federalism at its finest, which is why it has opponents among progressives of every party.  Almost a hundred citizen-legislators, hearts filled with love of country and of liberty, seek to restore liberty in America.  These are the very hearts upon which Judge Hand advised us to rely and they want to set up inviolable guardrails and guarantees to permit us safe access to the Constitution’s emergency brake — contained in Article V — to stop the runaway federal locomotive before it leaves the rails completely.

If it works, the big political news of 2016 will not be the presidential race.  It will be how nearly 100 citizen-legislators began a process that restored liberty to America ….

…or proved to us that we sold liberty down the river a long time ago, so we might want to get started with that revolution* now.

*By revolution, I do not mean violence. The Civil Rights movement proved that peaceful solutions can affect great changes and show the coercive nature of the state while bolstering the cause of liberty.

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