BY VERN TURNER
This election cycle is producing a lot of chatter about amending the U.S. Constitution, that venerable document that has endured over 200 years of examination that only yielded 27 such amendments. By comparison, the Texas state constitution has over 400 amendments and is barely readable or manageable. This would suggest that great care should be taken with amending our original guiding documents. Sadly, so-called conservatives are trotting out all sorts of amendment suggestions as if they were handout candies at a state fair.
The current Texas governor, for example, proposed nine such amendments, most of which are backward thinking to the days of states’ rights and the Articles of Confederation. They didn’t work then and were discarded until a similar “constitution” was formed to justify the Confederate States of America. We all know how that worked out except that it didn’t.
Even the vaunted Robert E. Lee couldn’t break loose men and materiel from other states to fight Grant in Virginia. Why? Because the state governors wanted to keep their resources to protect themselves. I guess national unity didn’t have the same importance it did before or afterward.
The Tenth Amendment has been de-fanged by several pieces of judiciary work that gave the federal government priority over state laws that are in conflict. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas Public Policy Foundation [funded by the Birch-like Koch brothers] and former Gov. Rick Perry all want[ed] to employ the Tenth Amendment to entertain secession action should the federal government become overly oppressive.
That oppression is interpreted as free money from Washington for health care and education addresses institutions that these “leaders” despise: social assistance and actually requiring school children to learn English. That’s it. These jokers, and their compliant Legislature, rejected $1.5 billion out of pique even though the citizens’ lives are poorer for it. That is not what government is supposed to be about.
One of the most foolish amendment proposals circulating through the Republican presidential campaigns is one for a balanced federal budget. Texas has one of those amendments and the state financial situation is a disaster waiting to explode. The state has borrowed from the future to fund necessities that the “balanced budget” didn’t and couldn’t prepare for.
First of all, government is not a business, unless, that is, you are a businessman financing your government entities, aka elected officials. Government is supposed to be of, by and for the people. When there is a need for government assistance, the government should respond accordingly.
But under balanced budget amendments, extra money for unpredictable situations like natural disasters must be borrowed, or the recovery will just proceed at the local level and businesses will be harmed and bankrupted, people displaced from their homes and health, and all the other evils we see in Third World countries that endure catastrophes will be the norm.
A balanced budget amendment sounds nice, but it is wholly impractical for governing a large, complex nation. History, both old and new, confirms that.
In my latest book, Racing to the Brink: The End Game for Race and Capitalism, I discuss several Constitutional amendments that might actually improve our situation as a nation. They mostly address how peoples’ voices must be returned to the election process.
The amendments may extend from the 28th through some undetermined number that will be decided by practicality for passage and implementation.
The points are:
- Make all elections publicly funded. This applies to all Federal and state elected offices.
- The election “season” shall be limited to six months before the election date when active campaigning can occur.
- Citizens United v. FEC shall be vacated since no private money will be permitted in the election process.
- Once a candidate is elected to federal office, he/she will not be permitted, at the end of their term, to seek employment or be hired by any organization, company or firm that deals in any way with the United States government, or state government.
- Terms for senators shall be limited to two, six-year terms. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives shall be limited to four, two-year terms. Supreme Court Justices shall be limited to terms not exceeding 20 years.
- Voter registration will be mandatory for every U.S. citizen seeking a driver’s license from any state, or as part of an armed forces enlistment, a social welfare service and Social Security registration.
- Election days will be declared a national holiday, or held on a Sunday.
- Lobbying elected government officials with gifts of monetary value or money will be made illegal and a felony by both parties.
- Abolish the Electoral College and declare presidential election winners by simple majority of votes cast nationwide.
These changes to the way we do business have obvious ramifications for us all. The people who are reluctant to vote because they feel their voices aren’t heard will no longer have that as an excuse to avoid doing their civic duty. It will also provide an incentive for voters to be informed of their choices for candidates and ballot issues, because the process itself recognizes the voters’ importance.
There are surely more and better suggestions out there that make sense, but something must be done to get the oligarchs out of our political arena and back to their jobs of actually creating meaningful work for American employees. The pre-occupation with finance, profit and tax-avoidance by corporate/banking America has always been part of our culture of somewhat-regulated capitalism.
To make a democratic republic work in that fabric, the people must be involved. We don’t seem to be much of a self-starting nation regarding election reform and I think that’s because the “lords of the realm” have rigged it that way and have intimidated the people.
We as a nation are somewhat sick and ailing. We will soon have the opportunity and, indeed, the necessity to “self-medicate” and update our Constitution so that its original spirit can be re-established and we can move forward to regaining our reputation as the greatest country in the world instead of just a collection of irresponsible money-changers who care not a whit for those they presume to govern.
– Vern Turner lives in Marble Falls, TX and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. His latest book, Racing to the Brink: The End Game for Race and Capitalism, is available through Amazon.com.