Americans are out of sorts, and increasingly they’re unhappy with the government. According to a Pew poll released last week, more than half of Americans view government as a threat to their freedom.
And it’s not just Republicans unhappy with Obama, or gun owners afraid that the government will take their guns: 38% of Democrats, and 45% of non-gun owners, see the government as a threat.
Add this to another recent poll in which only 22% of likely voters feel America’s government has the ‘consent of the governed,’ and you’ve got a pretty depressing picture — and a recipe for potential trouble. Governments operate, to a degree, by force, but ultimately they depend on legitimacy. A government that a majority views as a threat, and that only a small minority sees as enjoying the consent of the governed, is a government with legitimacy problems.
The entire article, which is quite brief, is worth your time. Reynolds concludes:
In the American system, a Constitutional Convention — which has never been held since the Constitution was adopted — is the last stop before revolution. It was intended as a way for the people to end-run the political establishment; if enough states request a convention, Congress has no choice but to call it, and the resulting proposals go straight to the states for ratification, bypassing Congress. It’s a way to make drastic changes when the political class has blocked smaller ones.
Are we there yet? I don’t think so. But we’re getting closer all the time. Political class, take note.
And that is precisely the problem. The political class–including not a few Republicans–not only will not take note, they’ll ignore it entirely. Professor Reynolds makes several assumptions that have been overtaken by political reality, namely: the country is now run by an utterly lawless executive branch that does not recognize the Constitution as the law of the land, and by a similarly inclined Senate. The Republican controlled House of Representatives has the supposed “power of the purse,” but is too feckless, fearful, or downright dense to invoke it, or to defend the integrity and prerogatives of the legislative branch.
A Constitutional Convention might easily be the most dangerous thing that could happen to liberty. Once instituted, there is no limit to what it can do–or undo. This is the primary reason there has never been a second Con-Con. Imagine a convention filled with partisans determined to enshrine their grievances and deranged notions of equality and social justice. It would not be a pretty sight, and it is highly unlikely whatever emerged from such a congress of the perpetually aggrieved would provide as much–to say nothing of more–liberty than we now enjoy, even in our enervated condition.
And why, pray tell, might anyone imagine that an executive branch and a Congress unwilling to live by the current Constitution would allow “…the people to end-run the political establishment?” Congress does indeed have a choice and as it refuses–in serial violation of federal law–to produce a budget, it would simply refuse to call a convention. Imagine how receptive Mr. Obama would be and what sort of cooperation might be expected of the executive branch, unless of course a new document essentially installed him as emperor for life and outlawed every party save his.
“Fine,” you say, “the people will hold a Con-Con and produce a new Constitution anyway. We’ll send the results directly to the states and ratify a new Consitution.”
Imagine that the “political establishment” wouldn’t use any means possible to pressure sufficient states into coming around to its way of thinking: “Dat’s a nice little state youse got dere. Be a shame if anyting wuz to happen to it.”
And imagine that a single Supreme Court justice willing to decide cases based on the Constitution has retired or died and Mr. Obama has installed another “wise Latina” or similar ideologue. What then?
Again, it takes little imagination to see such a court invalidating any product of the process. A Democrat-controlled Senate would surely side with the Administration, leaving only the milquetoasts of the House to choose whether to stand with The People, or to retain their perks and power.
All of which sets the nation up for civil war or for rolling over and taking whatever Washington wishes to hand out.
It is always possible that Mr. Obama and the Senate could abandon their beliefs and tactics of the last four years and suddenly embrace the Constitution and the rule of law. I can see Chuck Schumer and Dick Durban doing that, can’t you? Hey! Look at that! A flying pig! But if they were willing to do that, there would be no need to so much as discuss the possibility of a Con-Con.
So we are left with two possibilities: that the “political establishment” might spontaneously, or as a result of threats of various kinds, decide to fully embrace liberty and the rule of law, both of which will tend to take money out of their pockets and greatly diminish their power, or they’ll continue to work to fill their pockets and to increase their power and the Constitution, the rule of law and The People be damned.
I’m inclined to find Professor Reynolds perhaps just a bit optimistic. What’s your finding, gentle readers?