See if you can tell what ideological camp Sandy is in:
But if one must choose the worst single part of the Constitution, it is surely Article V, which has made our Constitution among the most difficult to amend of any in the world. The last truly significant constitutional change was the 22nd Amendment, added in 1951, to limit presidents to two terms. The near impossibility of amending the national Constitution not only prevents needed reforms; it also makes discussion seem futile and generates a complacent denial that there is anything to be concerned about.
It was not always so. In the election of 1912, two presidents — past and future — seriously questioned the adequacy of the Constitution. Theodore Roosevelt would have allowed Congress to override Supreme Court decisions invalidating federal laws, while Woodrow Wilson basically supported a parliamentary system and, as president, tried to act more as a prime minister than as an agent of Congress. The next few years saw the enactment of amendments establishing the legitimacy of the federal income tax, direct election of senators, Prohibition and women’s right to vote.
You guessed it! Sandy is a fan of the two biggest progressives of the early 1900’s – Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson – and the acts that he mentions, coupled with the FDR administration later in the 1920’s cemented the central control, anti-federalist approach favored by all “progressives”.
As you probably can guess, Sandy is not a fan. Our Constitution is just too stodgy for him, too hard to manipulate for the flavor of the month. As “progressives” are wont to do, Sandy sees things through only one lens:
Our vaunted system of “separation of powers” and “checks and balances” — a legacy of the founders’ mistrust of “factions” — means that we rarely have anything that can truly be described as a “government.” Save for those rare instances when one party has hefty control over four branches — the House of Representatives, the Senate, the White House and the Supreme Court — gridlock threatens. Elections are increasingly meaningless, at least in terms of producing results commensurate with the challenges facing the country.
Do you know why the results are “meaningless”?
It is because “progressives” try to use the Constitution for things that it was never intended for. Without seeming to know it, Professor Levinson gets it right when he answers his own question:
What might radical reform mean?
We might look to the 50 state constitutions, most of which are considerably easier to amend. There have been more than 230 state constitutional conventions; each state has had an average of almost three constitutions. (New York, for example, is on its fifth Constitution, adopted in 1938.) This year Ohioans will be voting on whether to call a new constitutional convention; its Constitution, like 13 others, including New York’s, gives voters the chance to do so at regular intervals, typically 20 years.
We don’t need a new Constitution. A national constitution that had been rewritten every 20 years would be a disaster. At the national level, we need minimal regulation and maximum consistency. National continuity and legal stability is the mark of a strong society. Richard W. Rahn, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth, notes the same in his recent analysis of Belize and The Cayman Islands and the differences in growth and prosperity:
Cayman is rich, and Belize is poor. Why? Both are small Caribbean countries with the same climate and roughly the same mixed racial heritage, and both were English-speaking British colonies. Belize (the former British Honduras) received its independence in 1981, while Cayman is still not fully independent but is self-governing at the local level, with its own currency, laws and regulations…
It is obvious why Cayman is rich and Belize is poor, and it comes down to one word: governance. If Belize would clean up its courts, fully protect property rights and adopt the best economic practices of its competitors, it could quickly become rich. For instance, it takes an average of 44 days to get all of the required permits to open a new business. In some countries, such as Estonia, Singapore and even the Commonwealth of Virginia in the U.S., the required paperwork to open a business can be done online. Thus, days have been reduced to just a few hours.
There is no reason any country has to remain poor. Countries are not poor because of climate, lack of natural resources or race. Countries as locationally varied as Singapore, Mauritius, Korea, Chile, Estonia and Cayman have become relatively rich over the past few decades. Those countries that are still relatively poor are poor because they have not put in place the necessary institutions, political structures and policies.
The United States and a number of other wealthy nations are becoming less free and thus, not surprisingly, are growing more slowly.
The Constitution we have is just fine, it is just not being used in the manner intended. If it was applied in a manner consistent with the federalist principles that it was built on, we would already have the flexibility at the state level that the good Professor says should be the balm to cure all ills.
Thanks to the Originalism Blog for the point to the NYT column.