Pushing for changes in our Constitution seems to be a constant in U.S. history, and fortunately our Founding Fathers provided a couple of ways for that to be done.
Not even our founders were perfect, or more perfect, as they put it. They knew that their new Constitution would need to be amended on occasion. Many of them even knew, at the time, that the original sin of that document, slavery, would have to be excised, like any other tumor.
So they gave us a process. The amendment process. It's worked remarkably well over the years. Call it a vehicle for conservative change.
For radical change, see the calls for a constitutional convention under Article V.
Proponents of this "Article V Convention"--which would allow a majority of states to call a nation-changing convention--have a few different targets in mind, such as term limits, a balanced budget and repealing our 17th Amendment.
If you don't have your pocket Constitution handy, the 17th Amendment changed the way our senators are sent to Washington. Prior to the 17th Amendment, state legislatures chose each state's two senators. After its ratification, senators, like their counterparts in the House of Representatives, are chosen by popular vote.
Some also want the Constitution to require a balanced budget--no matter peace or war, a boom or bust, national stability or global crisis. And then there are always those who'd handcuff small states like Arkansas with national term limits to Congress.
Getting 34 states to call for a convention to propose further constitutional amendments is no easy task. But if the project were successful? Didn't a former governor of Arkansas, Frank White, complain about somebody opening a whole box of Pandoras? Yogi Berra couldn't have put it better.
A constitutional convention, once unleashed, might be meant to be limited in scope. That's the theory. But in practice, how many Pandoras would there be? The amount of mischief might be limited only to the number of people involved.
How about getting rid of the Senate altogether? Wouldn't the big states enjoy that! Why should a small state like Wyoming or Delaware or Rhode Island--or Arkansas--have the same representation in the Senate as California or New York? See the last election for proof that some consider the system unfair. A lot more people voted for Democrats back on Nov. 6--see their capture of the U.S. House of Representatives--so how did the GOP pick up seats in the Senate?
Answer: Because that's the way Madison/Jefferson/Adams/Hamilton wrote the Constitution. Some called it a Great Compromise.
What are other paths that could open with a convention? Would environmental rules be taken out of the law and enshrined in the Constitution? What about social matters of the ephemeral day? Once the delegates be assembled, who's to stop them?
The great danger is that a constitutional convention called for one limited purpose might prove uncontrollable with all kinds of dubious amendments. Or it might even completely rewrite a document that one scholar and gentleman and British prime minister (William Ewart Gladstone) called the greatest work of the mind of man ever struck off at a given moment in time.
But surely We the People wouldn't let things go that far, right?
We did once. The original purpose of the 1787 constitutional convention was only to amend the Articles of Confederation, and delegates took it much further. Thank God.
But will we be thanking God after modern politicians and special interests get through at a 2019 convention? Do you see any Jeffersons or Adamses or Hamiltons around today?
Most supporters of an Article V Convention seem to have the general goal of reining in federal government, which is admirable. But voters can do that, and have been doing that, already as the two parties struggle back and forth, expanding government and raising taxes, and then limiting government and lowering taxes in turn. It's called the democratic process.
An editor and writer of some note once told us that the United States Constitution and the King James Bible were the only two documents written by committees that actually said anything. And both of those were inspired by God.
We don't think He has the time these days to inspire modern politicians to inscribe sacred lines about budgets and term limits.
Here's another phrase that editor once had, whenever we had a bad idea, and that was often: Let's not.
An Article V Convention? Let's not. Like letters, duels, insults and orating, the founders did it so much better.
Editorial on 11/29/2018
Print Headline: Conventional thought