Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Week 22: Convention of States

For the past 30 weeks, I have offered my perspective on topics that have arisen during the course of this election cycle. Some topics seem as perennial as the wildflowers that line the highways and byways of middle America. Some, like the novel Coronavirus, are annuals, that appear during a single campaign season and are not to be debated again.

In this week’s examination of issues, with your kind indulgence, I would like to bring forth a topic that is never – neither annually nor perennially – discussed by either of the two major political parties. I would entreat you to consider a convention under Article V of the Constitution, commonly referred to as the Convention of States.

Why would I bring up a topic that almost certainly will play no role in the 2020 election? Permit me to explain.

I know of absolutely no one who is satisfied with the political class of today. I venture to guess that most consider them, at best, ineffectual and obsessed more with their own power than with the general welfare of We the People. At worst, they are corrupt miscreants plotting their own welfare at the expense our yours and mine. To make matters worse, we have a two-party system that, almost as if by design, foments disharmony and despair.

Those on the left bemoan the same problems they’ve bemoaned for 50 years, and they offer the same failed policies they’ve offered for 50 years, only on a grander scale. Those on the right claim to be successors to the Founders’ legacy of individual liberty and limited government, yet under their leadership, time and time again, government has grown astronomically and our freedoms have been curtailed. Neither party demonstrates any adherence to a cogent set of fundamental, governing principles.

During the past 50 years, what social concern has been solved by those who sit in the chambers of Congress? Poverty and homelessness continue to exist. Welfare programs continue to teeter on the verge of bankruptcy. Disharmony among the races and genders continues to simmer beneath society’s surface, waiting to boil over. In the media, the query is even posed: are we entering a new period of civil war?

A new civil war…it is astonishing to contemplate. How can this be?

Whilst Rome burned, it is said Nero fiddled. And so it is today with our elected officials and their appointed bureaucrats. Our “city on a hill” is burning, and the Neros of today, the members of the ruling class, appear once again on the ballot, seeking to aggrandize their power.

As with the Great Fire of Rome, after which rumors swirled and legends formed about Nero, for whom the tragic burning of Rome was seen as a benefit (some even saying he may have planned the fire) in that it cleared needed space for his Domus Aurea, or Golden House, the same is sometimes suspected of our leaders today. They benefit from the evils and hatreds they see in our citizenry. To them, we are, by nature, wicked and need them to save us from destroying one another.

I have found, in my family and among my friends, and in my travels across the nation and around the world, that individuals want the same fundamental things: to be at liberty to live their lives and to be free from strife and conflict. As individuals, we are predisposed to harmony with others. This is a Lockean viewpoint, to be sure, but I maintain, from my experience, that it is a correct viewpoint. It is when tyranny and totalitarianism are introduced, that groups of people are manipulated so as to embrace hatred and engage in violence. The introduction of these evils into human interactions warp and dissolve the social contract.

I would suggest, kind reader, that for us in America these evils are born out of the two-party political system. Permit me to share some observations from George Washington, Hannah Arendt and Lord Acton as a way of priming our examination of this assertion. Their insight will lead us to consider why a Convention of States is so important.

Washington said of two-party systems, “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissensions, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purpose of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty. Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wish people to discourage and restrain it.”

In her work, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Hannah Arendt spoke of “party above all parties” in terms of fueling of the flames of anti-Semitism in pre-WWII Germany’s Social Democrat party. This meant that the goals of National Socialism transcended the various political parties and factions and served as a unifying cause for those in the Reichstag, making National Socialism a party above all the other parties of the time.

Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Almost immediately following Washington’s two terms as President, the two-party system began to take shape. Along with this formation, politics as a profession in America began to rear its ugly head. Although it has taken a little more than two centuries for the parties to form and differentiate, it seems that we are now at a point where the differentiation has given way to convergence and singularity of purpose. They have, in a sense, become a single party – a party above parties – which just happens to have two factions. These factions are essentially the same, being different in name only. Yes, although Democrat politicians speak of social justice and Republicans speak of individual freedom, their penchant for taxing and spending and controlling our lives leaves little, if any, daylight between the two.

If we accept this notion, that the two parties are for all intents and purposes one party, what is their guiding principle. I would suggest, kind reader, that it is power – amassing it and maintaining it – leading, as Lord Action warned, to a state of nearly universal corruption.

I am well aware of the media’s and the public’s obsessive preoccupation with the presidential race. Biden is racist and senile. Trump is racist and narcissistic. For this week’s examination, I am not focused on the candidates for that office. After all, the most damage they can do is over the course of four or eight years.  Instead, I’m thinking of the candidates for the House and Senate.

In the House and Senate, approximately 25 percent of members in both chambers have been in office more than twelve years. Nearly another 25 percent have been in office between six and twelve years, according to the Congressional Research Service. Politics is indeed a profession for approximately half of Congress.

[As an aside, it is interesting to note that, of the 535 members of Congress, more than 200 have a net worth of more than $1 million.]

With massive political machines behind career politicians, it is easy to understand how they are elected over and over again, despite producing few, if any, favorable results for the American people. I may suggest that they actually do more harm than good.

Feeding these political machines are lobbyists with deep pockets, making politics a big-money game. Lobbyists and the companies, individuals and governments funding them are knowingly making what they believe will be long-term investments (i.e., funding politicians who will remain in office over the course of many terms), ensuring they and their interests are treated favorably in legislation that is passed. Backs are scratched. Pockets are lined. And both parties are guilty.

As have many – perhaps you, as well – I have struggled to think of a remedy to eliminate, or at least mitigate, corruption in our political system.

I believe a potentially efficacious remedy is term limits. If politicians were limited to no more than two terms (or two consecutive terms with a three-term gap between those terms and their next term, in order to avoid a perpetual flip-flop of politicians, like Putin and Medvedev in Russia), the incentive for lobbyists and those they represent to fund candidates would drastically diminish, as their money would no longer be a long-term investment. It stands to reason, I believe, that political power would shift to the citizenry, and politicians would have to rely genuinely on their record and the favorable results they would produce through legislation for the people.

Term limits, though, threaten the very power that half of Congress has attained and, for all we know, the other half aspires to attain. It would be a fool’s errand to advance legislation in Congress to impose term limits.

In my opinion, the only way to implement term limits is by way of an Article V Convention (aka Convention of States). Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides a process by which the Constitution may be amended if two-thirds of the state legislatures call for a convention, enabling the proposal, debate and potential ratification of amendments, such as an amendment to impose term limits on members of Congress. At present, all but 11 states have some effort underway to call for an Article V Convention, with 15 states having passed a resolution calling for such a convention.

I must admit that I used to be opposed to term limits, believing that if a person wanted to run and if citizens wanted to elect that person, no one should be prohibited from doing so. It seems, however, that the power and its attendant corruption have become so great, with the grotesque growth of government, that the days of citizen statesmen and stateswomen are lost to us today. It seems that no other options present themselves.

If you are convinced, visit www.conventionofstates.com to see where your state stands on this process, and if you are so inclined, support the effort with your John Hancock.

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