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Scrap the Constitution? And Replace It With What?

A week ago, long-time Democratic operative Donna Brazile tweeted that the United States needs “a new Constitution,” one that will “save American democracy from charlatans, loudmouths and the 1 percent.” She got that last part from this Salon.com article by Andrew Burstein, a history prof at Louisiana State University.

What, pray tell, would this new Constitution be like? Let’s go to Professor Burstein:

It would limit the number of terms a representative or senator could serve, so as to introduce fresh blood from a pool of more visible talent. (Does 12 years sound reasonable?) It would not allow ex-congressmen to trade on their insider connections for at least five years–which might then produce fewer power-engrossing lawyer-politicians and more–let’s be really optimistic here–systems engineer- or bioethicist-politicians, i.e., problem solvers with a useful trade to fall back on after public service.

Next, let’s reform the debased Supreme Court by reducing tenure from life to 10 years. (Honestly, who’s not tired of Scalia?)
Step 1: It would continue to conduct congressional redistricting as necessary and proper (in accord with the national census taken every “0” year), but in a wholly unbiased manner by means of a mathematically derived algorithm that combines population distribution and natural topography.

Step 2: Use tax dollars exclusively to fund national political campaigns.

That’s pretty much it at this point (he promises more in a later article), and admittedly I wouldn’t mind seeing some of his proposed changes enacted, such as term limits for representatives and senators, and even for Supreme Court justices (a ten-year term for them, however, is a bit short, in my view).

But Burstein also laments the state of general ignorance among the American population.

As you might expect from a Salon article, most of that ignorance falls squarely on the shoulders of the Right (you caught the anti-Scalia quip, right?); after all, Burstein cites polls that showed almost half of Republicans believed Barack Obama was an East African Muslim. (Of course, Mr. Obama and his minions had nothing to do with that, right?) In addition, too many Americans fall for “tired, artless old men with bad haircuts and meaningless flag pins, commingling with Tea Party obstructionists …”

To this end, Burstein wants a lot more money funneled into the education system:

Bring the best teachers to the worst schools, and pay a hefty premium to those teachers. Make a commitment to fixing these schools first. Let them shine on the outside, as a site for community pride. Give them great equipment and smaller classes. Make the learning environment of the poor superior.

How does one define the “best teachers?” Those on the left and right continue to grapple with the appropriate definition. In his piece Burstein argues against standardized testing, yet this is precisely how many — most, even — of the “best” teachers are identified … those in line for a “hefty premium” (Burstein’s words) for their performance. Since more affluent children test better, those teachers naturally will “perform better” as teachers. But would these teachers perform well in settings with poor students — in economically troubled areas?

Don’t count on it.

It’s also been demonstrated that tossing more money at education isn’t even close to being enough in terms of tackling general academic ignorance. For example, two billion dollars were allocated over a dozen years for Kansas City, Missouri schools beginning in 1985. Two billion. The results?

“Although the students enjoyed perhaps the best school facilities in the country … black students’ achievement hadn’t improved at all, and the black-white achievement gap was unchanged.”

Burstein concludes his take on lower ed by saying “Take pride in actual democratic commitment. There isn’t enough of it.” I certainly doubt, however, that the professor would be in favor of somehow proving that commitment by, say, requiring voters to pass a basic citizenship test, much like the one newly naturalized citizens must do. Indeed, “progressives” like Burstein have done everything they can to make voting easier, like this.

The major problem with Burstein’s desired Constitution is that many of its proposed changes should actually only require acts of legislation, not articles or amendments codified into a new guiding document. For instance, the professor lists a litany of tax increases (on the “rich,” natch) and removal of tax breaks (oil, coal companies); how much sense would it make to write an “Article XIII: Tax breaks for oil and coal companies are hereby forbidden”? What if, suddenly, economic conditions mandated that we needed energy from these sources? We’d have to pass a constitutional amendment to offer the incentives to these industries again.

Or maybe we wouldn’t. That probably would be “too cumbersome” for Professor Burstein. Maybe just alter the Constitution by a majority vote of Congress? Or presidential edict?

Burstein, along with Georgetown University’s Louis Michael Seidman and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, also want to codify so-called “positive rights” — rights that “affirmatively provide socio-economic necessities.” For instance, Burstein quotes FDR who pondered a new Bill of Rights, one which would include “the right to a useful and remunerative job.” Ginsberg noted that an updated U.S. Constitution should look more like South Africa’s — which grants, among other things, “the right to housing and adequate healthcare.”

Seidman ups the ante, so to speak, by advocating that people follow provisions of the Constitution that they like — freedom of speech, religion, and equal protection of the laws, are obvious “favorites” — but adherence should be done “out of respect, not obligation” (emphasis added).

Wha-a-a …?

Burstein et. al. like the idea of a new Constitution because, ultimately, it would be able to be altered capriciously. And who would be doing the altering? “Progressives,” of course. Practically everything Burstein lays out favors expansion of big government … which, of course, means liberal (Democrat) power.

But a constitution that can be modified virtually at a whim does more than just move away from the system those “white propertied” (Seidman’s words) Founders established. It moves us from a Republic to essentially a pure democracy … and ultimately to an authoritarian state. After all, even if in the short term (under this new, “updated” Constitution) we remain a republic, remember that our new governing document can be revised so easily as to do away with (the quaint notion of) representatives and senators.

Ironically, Professor Burstein refers to the Founders’ “warning,” if you will, that good government means having public servants who are free from self-interest. It’s quite head-scratching that he actually thinks increasing a faceless bureaucracy of essentially a one-party state will lessen that primal urge.

(h/t to Examiner.com for the link to Salon.com.)

Dave Huber is an assistant editor of  The College Fix. You can follow him on Twitter @ColossusRhodey.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 18 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.