Founding Fathers… meet your greedy heirs.
The Constitution is a miraculous document, but if Madison knew Pelosi, he would have changed some things.
by Michael Naragon
The Tea Party movement has been, for the most part, a reaction against bi-partisan government spending in the short term. In the larger context of American history, however, the Tea Party is a reactionary movement against the federal government’s departure from the Constitution, a departure that began in earnest after the Civil War.
The Founding Fathers were Providentially inspired in the writing of the Constitution. They took the best of what had been done in the past, combined it with the leading ideas of the Enlightenment, and added their own idioyncrasies to compose the best government ever devised by man. They constructed a government that has lasted over 200 years in a world climate where nations are born and reborn regularly.
Were I able to take a journey in time, however, and sit in on the proceedings of the Convention, to see Washington seated in his chairman seat, to hear the debates between the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians, I would be compelled to speak up on a few glaring deficiencies in their work.
No more Byrds, Kennedys, or Thurmonds
The first issue I would raise with the Constitutional Convention would be term limits for all elected federal offices. George Washington tried to create this tradition through personal example, as he gladly stepped down after two terms in office. Interestingly, the only president to deviate from Washington’s pattern was Franklin Roosevelt, who sought to change our Constitution in several other ways as well.
Roosevelt’s four terms in office prompted Republicans to push for the 22nd Amendment. If they had been intellectually honest, they would have used that amendment to limit the terms of Senators and Representatives as well.
The Founding Fathers did not intend the offices of Congress to become permanent positions of perpetual power for an elite few. The fact that Congress takes long recesses speaks to the fact that those serving our country in the days following its founding needed time to tend to their law practices, farms, and businesses. Their full time jobs were not to suffer because of their public service.
In our current political climate, politicians like Hillary Clinton boast of their “service” to the country when their entire life is consumed with public office.
Most of our current federal politicians attended Ivy League universities, majored in law or political science, and began work in the government immediately after school. They worked their way up the political ladder until they themselves gained an office, perhaps on the state level.
Their goal being national office, they carefully voted on the state level and raised funds to make a run. Upon winning a national position, the politician’s life is refined to two seasons: “serving” in Congress and planning for re-election. Some would argue these two are actually one and the same.
The Founding Fathers, with the possible exception of Hamilton, did not intend for “congressman” to become a full-time job, held for the life of the office holder.
Arguments can be made as to the benefits of limitless terms for congressmen: seniority brings influence and money to a state, stability, and the efficiency of experience. To those arguments I would offer some real-world counters: Barney Frank, Edward Kennedy, Robert Byrd, John McCain. A two-term limit for congressmen would mean the American people would only have had to deal with each of these men for four to sixteen years, at most. (For those who challenge my math, two terms in the House and two terms in the Senate would equal 16 years.)
A term-limited Congress would make the position of elected official a little less attractive to those who are looking for a cash cow or a lifetime career that gives them power to control lives. As Milton Friedman has written, term limits would restore government to its intended conductors, the citizen representatives.
Power from the people.
A second change I would have suggested to the Convention is to put more powerful language and explanation behind the original process to elect Senators. Section 3 of Article 1 of the Constitution states: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.”
Originally, the Framers wished the Senate to be elected by state legislators. The reason for it was simple: the Senate was to be filled with representatives for the state governments. The House of Representatives was designed, with its popular election, to be filled with direct representatives of the people. In this way, even the Congress had its balance of power, with the members coming from different electoral processes.
With the 17th Amendment, the people were given the right to directly elect Senators, placing both houses in the hands of the easily swayed electorate. For those who don’t believe the electorate can be easily swayed, I would advance the 2008 Presidential Election as stark evidence.
Had the Founders made their reasons for state elections of Senators more explicit, it would have been much more difficult to pass the 17th Amendment and poison Congress with populism.
We’re the employers, right?
A third suggestion I would make to the Founders would be to place a provision in Article I or produce an 11th Amendment that placed the power of government salaries in the hands of the people.
While I believe the Senatorial office should be free from populism, I believe the country’s bottom line would be much better served if we, the employers of the government, were responsible for voting on salary increases for congressmen. No other job in the United States allows an employee to increase his own salary at will.
Being the theoretical boss, the People should have the right to determine what is a fair and reasonable salary for their representatives. This would serve a second purpose, aside from putting some of the federal budget in the hands of the People: congressmen would be even more attuned to the will of their constituents, in the same way an employee cares what his boss thinks of him.
The right to keep and bear arms 2.0
As a student and teacher of history, I have my doubts that the brilliant assemblage who composed this brilliant document would accept my suggestions. Those who believed in the ideals of Jefferson probably would have assumed the people would rise up in revolution against an increasingly oppressive government, that we would never have allowed it to get so far as it has in 2009.
“Are the people not armed?” they might ask. “Did we not give them the right to defend themselves, the right to arm against an over-reaching power?” I would nod grimly and then explain how the principle of gun control had superseded that right. I would tell them how the right to keep arms was now defended by a shrinking lobby that was constantly demonized by the Left.
And then I would make a final suggestion. To clarify the firearms argument, the Convention should rewrite their upcoming 2nd Amendment to include specific reasoning behind their inclusion of that right.
Part of the brilliance of the Constitution was what it did not say. Too many rules create too many loopholes, and the Framers understood this. They kept some of their wording vague and simple to keep a strong federal government from usurping power from the states and the people. (For an example of how wordiness equals power, see the Federal Tax Code.)
A small bit of clarification–and I would leave the wording in their capable hands–would end the debate and allow the National Rifle Association to return to sponsoring shooting clubs and safety clinics exclusively.
My piece said, my suggestions made, I would leave the Founders to their work. I’m sure some, if not all, of them would be speculating about the political conditions in my America that would make it necessary for such clarifications and changes. To save them the pain, I wouldn’t even tell them about the Department of Education, hanging chads, or Janet Napolitano.
On The Web: theconstitutionalalamo.com/2009/04/25/founders/