Philadelphia Here We Come

The flip side of a coin that says “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”- says “but if it is broke, you gotta fix it”

Despite the ultimate success and passage of health care reform, nearly all Americans still agree that “the system” is broken, though there is no unanimity on exactly what is broken, as the health care Donny brook appeared to illustrate.  There surely is no consensus about what the fixes need to be. And, poll after poll makes clear that many of the biggest issues in the modern world carry a significant preponderance of public support contrary to and despite quite a limited minority of the population which holds hostage such issues through some contrived interpretation of constitutional law.

There are some minor, partial fixes in the works such as [1] Senator Schumer’s current bill to dampen the effect of the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision to allow corporate campaign giving by requiring corporations to disclose contributions to all their shareholders, [2] plans for public funding of elections, [3] universal federal registration to vote, to name only a few. But, taken as a whole they would not appear to add up to a systemic solution.  And, the aggregated cost of those efforts probably would exceed the costs of a comprehensive attack on all the problems at the same time. As the military say, it helps to concentrate firepower to get a job done.

How did we get here and why is the system broken?

It began way back at the beginning of the founding of our Republic.

In the late 1700’s as the original 13 states were forming, counties were also forming. The standard used to size most counties was how far a person could ride a horse out and back in a day. The reason was that was the obvious practical limit a county executive could cope with in those days.  Perhaps this is an apt metaphor for changes since then in today’s world.

Of major significance, when the ‘founders’ were designing Congress, they gave the House of Representatives  2 year terms to keep its members closest to the changing sentiments of the public. Today, because of redistricting/gerrymandering which began early in the game, about 85% of all 435 House seats are basically 60/40 for one or the other major parties. So, today the House has become less sensitive to changing political winds, except on very rare occasions. Thus, today the 1/3 of the 100 Senate seats that turn over every 2 years have become the more important barometer and instrument of political change.

Some of the controversial issues that have divided and stymied the system are:

—-In 1800 the biggest controversy, besides general arguments over states’ rights, was slavery.

—- It was not until the 1830’s that Chief Justice Marshall finally gave real meaning to federalism, as well as the role of the Supreme Court, with his fundamental view that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution overrode  conflicts between the States.

—-In 1800 the issues now known popularly as “ right to life vs a woman’s choice” was not even imagined nor was women’s’ vote.

—-The right to bear arms was still thought of in Revolutionary War militia terms not personal gun control.

—–The idea of and term ‘filibuster’ had never been uttered.

——Though we have been a debtor nation from the beginning, Keynesian economics about all the benefits of deficit spending was 100 plus years in the future.

——Citizen mobility in 1800 was very limited and except for Presidential elections voting was primarily local in nature.

—– Newspapers were everywhere and virulent. Ahead lay telegraph/phones, TV and the Internet as well as the overwhelming power of money in politics.

In short, though our country has been well served for most of the 200 plus years since the Constitution was completed, the modern world has become such a very different place that the original rules for governing are not working well enough in the today’s world.

Perhaps the biggest general problem we faced in the past and still face today is how to allocate the largess of the Federal treasury. Until very recently that challenge was how to equitably distribute the ever increasing wealth of the nation. Today with the shrinking apparent size of the globe we are facing what appears to be shrinking domestic wealth and pie.

Historically the country as a whole appears overleveraged. It only ‘appears’ that way because when we inevitably begin to grow again, virtually all mainstream economists guarantee us that our national debts will rapidly shrink again as they did most recently in the 1990s.  In the meanwhile the leverage of capital throughout the whole economy that accompanied the internet and housing bubbles makes fiscal conservatives very nervous that the consequences of financial overextension will threaten our national foundations. In all events in the meanwhile, there will be serious reductions to citizens’ benefits by budget deficits at the city and state levels, where budgets are required by law to be balanced yearly and thus restricted. Accordingly, the federal government must pour on its spending in part to insure that local budget problems do not put too much drag on local economies that might further retard essential renewal of growth.

We have to find some way to manage our fiscal affairs, through a slow recovery, with some combination of [1] continuous stimulus [2] more deficit spending and [3] targeted taxes which do not starve investment.

Our present governing system is highly unlikely, in a timely way, to achieve those needs, since legislators, who naturally reflect the anxieties of their constituents, will have a very hard time bringing themselves to do and live with the tough things like more deficits and taxes.

The foregoing is admittedly a long windup, but is essential to presenting and understanding the following quite radical pitch.

The radical, but very serious, idea is to consider a new “go” at a constitutional convention to make some adjustments to reflect today’s world. The alternative is to struggle along with a series of partial, temporizing fixes which are very unlikely to really do the big job, or simply wait for a fearsome revolutionary fervor to force our hand, which would be a lousy time to try to get things right.

Futile many will say– may be? Daunting everyone should say– yes!

Many people already say that without Washington, Madison, Jefferson and Adams, etc. the great founding fathers, it will be virtually impossible to imagine a new beginning. Granted, it does seem that way, but we must also remember that they became great, as we see them now, in part because they took up the challenge of their time, persevered and succeeded.  We have plenty of talent in the country today ready for a call to be put to work, and have a chance to become refounders.

A new generation of “greats” positively can arise and be identified and ultimately celebrated.

This is an opportunity of our lifetime to again lead the county back to Philadelphia and launch an effort to address all the problems/issues in a systemic, coherent way that are plaguing the changed modern world.

At this moment it is hard enough to try to list the problems that need to be addressed; it is next to impossible to imagine at this stage what the solutions could be. But, that is not reason enough to throw up our hands in frustration. In fact it is THE very reason why we need a truly representative, well run civil convention to unlock the way ahead.

It will only take time, a lot of money and leadership. That’s all!

Around 5 Billion Dollars and about 8 years could produce a new blueprint to address the unbelievable future potential this country possesses. That potential will not only get us out of debt, it will keep us ahead of the rest of the world in global strength and standard of living for a very long time.

It will take the equivalent [or more] of a Presidential campaign—a 50 state organization, an army of scholars and experts, polls, public education and endless speeches and even more patience.

A legacy as a leader of a second founding is simply begging for someone who has the wherewithal to say: “What are we waiting for?”


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