A Radical Centrist Vision for the Future > Introduction
Amendments for the Future
The point of view in the following Amendments is Radical Centrist in spirit. This means a perspective unique in American politics, one which regards both Left and Right as sources for good ideas while, at the same time, considering both Left and Right as agents of the devil, fonts of evil, and otherwise stupid or insane. This general set of considerations applies as well to “third parties” of various kinds, whether Green, Libertarian, Democratic Socialist, Constitutionalist, Conservative, or anything else. For those who would like an overview of Radical Centrist philosophy and its leading ideas, the first part of the Appendix includes statements about Radical Centrist Principles, Radical Centrist Values, and what Radical Centrism shares with Libertarians and where it is very different. In fact, Radical Centrism is distinctive in many ways, not only from Libertarianism but from all other political viewpoints.
There is also a Radical Centrist “11th Commandment,” namely:
Thou shalt be practical.
We sometimes may honor this commandment more in the breach than anything else, but it is an ideal of ours and it is important. This hardly means that we cannot dream big dreams, as many of the Amendments in this study attest, but the idea is that all of our proposals and objectives, and the like, ought to be conceived pragmatically. We some day hope to provide Independent voters with their “default” political philosophy, to which they turn as a matter of course in the future.
We believe that our ideas are superior to those of all other political people currently seeking to influence the 1/3rd of the electorate that does not identify with either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party and which considers itself “Independent.” But to accomplish any such task we had better be practical. This means both a need for us to show good common sense –as well as creative uncommon sense that allows us to arrive at workable solutions to real world problems.
The following 100 Amendments should provide a good overview of Radical Centrist political thinking and about what kind of America we would like to see emerge in the 21st century. The range of topics covered is comprehensive and the viewpoint taken is guaranteed to be controversial. You will need to actually read the Amendments first before taking a position on any of them, however. The titles only give an indication of subject matter, they give no indication of substance, just about all of which will surprise nearly everyone.
Seriously, if you look at a subject heading and think that you surely know what it is all about, you would be making a huge mistake. The ideas expressed in the following Amendments are original, not only in the sense that they are new, but in a more profound sense in that the thinking and the research behind the ideas is nothing you could possibly be prepared for. Well, maybe this claim is somewhat exaggerated, but if so, not my much.
Be prepared for the best in new ideas, and only the best.
Original Intent vs. ‘Living Constitution’
The Constitution of the United States not only is the founding document of the American republic, it is our “bible,” the justification for all Law and for much of our politics also. But how should one interpret this essential document?
There are two main schools of thought on the question. The Originalist view, sometimes called “strict constructionism,” says that the intentions of the Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution itself should take precedence in all matters pertaining to the document and its initial Amendments. Later Amendments should be interpreted according to the intentions of the authors of those Amendments. While there is qualification –it is vital to also know how these documents were understood generally at the time of ratification– this is pretty much the philosophy of the Originalists.
Those who champion a “Living Constitution” view of things say that we live in a very different world than the 18th century known by James Madison and the other thinkers who created the Constitution. Our world is drastically unlike the era of the American Revolution or, for that matter, the world of the 19th century following the Civil War. Therefore, since it is extremely difficult to amend the Constitution, Judges may take it upon themselves to amend it though judicial decisions based on ideas which are most relevant to out era in time, which reflect contemporary needs and values.
The Radical Centrist position is this:
There is no rational way to deny the premises of the Originalist view. Either seek to understand the intended meaning of the people who wrote the Constitution and its Amendments or end up with arbitrary meaning determined by simple opinion which , even when expressed by Judges, may not be very well-informed. Worse, extremely well-reasoned defenses of previous Constitutional law may be overturned by later courts simply because current public opinion has drifted in a new direction. A case in point is the Bowers v Hardwick decision of 1986 which was overturned in Lawrence v Texas of 2003. Quite simply, the later decision took no cognizance of just about any substantive arguments of B v H and, in the process, trampled underfoot many centuries of jurisprudence and cultural values. Indeed, things have gotten so far that the Supreme Court, almost as a matter of routine, voids even voter approved amendments to state constitutions as if democracy is inferior to a judicial oligarchy ruled by aging Left-wing jurists.
However, proponents of the Living Constitution make their own valid point. We simply cannot play “let’s pretend”. There is much about our life in the 21st century that men alive in the 1780s simply could not anticipate. And given the serious problems that confront anyone who seeks to amend the Constitution, what, exactly, is the Court supposed to do? Try and transport themselves to the world as it was known to Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison? This cannot be done, and even if it could, would we really find answers to most of the questions that are important to us now?
An important 2002 essay by Jon Roland, “Principles of Constitutional Construction,” makes the point, about the ratification process in the various states, that: “As the debates proceeded, understandings evolved and clarified, and positions changed.” While this truth can be taken too far, after all, there was far more consistency than otherwise, it nonetheless is a fact that a good number of views held during the Constitutional Convention were later modified. Most famously was Madison’s reversal concerning the Bill of Rights. In 1787 he as strongly opposed to any such thing –on the grounds that the rights which came to be enumerated in the first ten Amendments were implicit in the body of the Constitution– but by 1788 he was the arch-champion of the concept and became its principal sponsor.
Another point made by Roland is that “original meaning” cannot only mean what the Founders were thinking at the time of ratification. After all, some of the men who drafted the Constitution were unsure of various exact meanings even at the time of writing. Again, let us not take this observation beyond reasonable bounds. The drafters had objectives and ideals and were hardly groping for meaning. Generally they knew exactly what they intended. However, Usually is not always, and sometimes their intent seems to have been to let Constitutional processes work themselves out, see what happens, and act accordingly. Madison provides still another example. In 1789 Madison proposed a new Amendment that would have clarified.the exact meaning of “speedy trial.” His proposal, while it was debated, never was ratified and still languishes today –which the following document seeks to remedy.
Unfortunately, Roland’s article, thoughtful as it is, suffers from two major defects:
(1) It is presented in a very awkward-to-use format, which features small font size that cannot be changed into desired larger font size but only in larger increments than most readers will find helpful. Some is single space and some is double space, and basically the presentation is a mess. To have the view that format is not important is about as self-defeating as anything gets.
(2) His position is one of opposition to original meaning and, again and again, he turns exceptions into general rules through highly selective editing of evidence. Thus, while many of his observations are entirely valid and worth serious consideration, he simply cannot be trusted in all particulars and sometimes is downright misleading. But he makes the point that the Quest for Original Meaning is not a search for something always obvious, and it may, in cases, be a search for what does not exist. Hence it is vital to be honest about such matters and admit that some original meanings will never be accessible. Most, yes, a good estimate would seem to be approximately 90 %. But the remaining 10 % can be consequential.
This is not –in any way– meant to disparage the world of Roland. He is a Constitutional scholar of repute and is known nationally for his work for the Constitution Society. We are indebted to him even when we disagree with his conclusions.
Why Radical Centrists want a large number of Amendments
But is the best remedy for voids in original meaning to turn questions of Constitutional interpretation over to unelected judges? The Radical Centrist position is that any such course of action is a travesty. The best course to take is to amend the Constitution. However, not just amend it with a very few new propositions, but with a large number of Amendments that reflect the Living Constitution view that we are alive in a very different era than the 18th century.
Where both the political Left and the political Right agree is with respect to Amendments ; neither wants to see very many of them. A few favorites is all that either really have interest in promoting. Otherwise the existing system seems to suit them fine, even if for different reasons, the Originalists because they do not want the Constitution to be interfered with, and the Living Constitution people because the current way of doing business allows judges to legislate from the bench. Radical Centrists take an altogether different approach to either the Originalist view or that of the judicial Left. This is an example of how the principle of “thinking outside the box” –to reuse a once au current slogan– can be employed to produce fresh and promising results. The guiding idea also has the virtue of simplicity. Namely: Let us convene a 21st century Constitutional Convention and discuss and debate an entire range of new “Amendments for the Future.” Then submit the recommendations to the states for ratification, as was done with the Constitution itself in 1787, 1788, and 1789.
The Radical Centrist view combines both serious Originalism and serious Living Constitution philosophy. This is what makes it radical ; that is, affirmation of the strongest possible positions taken by each side to the debate. But because RC seeks to make sense of both views to arrive at a workable middle position it also is Centrist in a meaningful way.
This is not “triangulation,” a series of compromises to arrive at a mushy middle. This really is a radical approach with few compromises at all. Not that there aren’t times for compromise, there certainly are, but our preference is for decisiveness that preserves the strong points of both Left and Right –and sometimes of “Other.”
This said, Radical Centrists can be described as Originalists, at least if a number of qualifications are taken into account. What, after all, can any Amendment mean unless the purpose for drafting it in the first place is integral to how it is interpreted? But this is not to say that discerning original meaning is always easy to do. It may be, but often it is not. The reason is because James Madison was a complex thinker, America’s first philosopher it can be said, unless this honor goes to Benjamin Franklin, in any case someone who thought long and deeply about every word he put on paper when he wrote out the very first version of the Constitution. Not only that, and not counting the considerable thought that went into hammering the document into final shape on the part of delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, there were the ideas of the so-called “Anti-Federalists” who were most responsible for giving us the Bill of Rights, the original 10 Amendments.
In so many words, the task of learning original intent is a mind-stretching endeavor. It is not simply a matter of finding correct answers on a multiple choice test which has cut-and-dried right answers. In most cases what is involved is understanding the philosophy behind an Article in the Constitution or behind an Amendment. This is far from impossible, however, and there have been many excellent papers that discuss aspects of this Constitution we all could benefit from knowing. See Appendix B for details.
The Writing Style of this Project
Amendments are varying length. Some are essays of several pages long, the equivalent of research articles. This was done when the subjects addressed were of sufficient complexity that anything less would not be able to explain the issues involved or the value of the proposed remedies.
Other Amendments are only one paragraph in extent, or only two or three paragraphs. Still others are about one page long.
Whatever is an “appropriate length” was the guiding principle. While this was sometimes a subjective decision, hopefully most proposed amendments are well-conceived, self-contained, and valuable. Another objective was to make each Amendment sufficiently well written to be a pleasure to read. In fact, the result is both a new kind of constitutional literature and a new way to create Amendments, breaking with past precedent to the effect that all must be simple and very short. This presumed imperative has outlived its usefulness.
Taken together, you will find a systematic plan for a new kind of American form of politics and government.
There are 88 Amendments which are spelled out sometimes in great detail in the body of the text. There are 12 short sketches for needed Amendments in this introductory essay, altogether 100 Amendments.
Strategy for a Constitutional Convention
As a matter of strategy, to have actual hope for a Constitutional Convention at any time in the near future, two Amendments should be ratified before all others. To expedite the process of ratification there is a proposed Amendment that would change the present system to one where states representing 3/4ths of the population, rather than 3/4ths of states, would become normative, as long as the total number of states is at least 50 % plus one. As things are, states representing approximately 15 % of the population can block any Amendment, a situation that is intrinsically unfair.
On the other hand, states have special rights under the Constitution since we are a nation of semi-independent republics. To assure small states that their interests are not being overlooked, another Amendment, source of the idea not known, is proposed which would increase the number of Senators from 2 to 3.
The primary reason is so that at least one Senator from each state would need to be elected during each General Election, doing away with the oddity that 1/3rd of states have no senatorial contests each two years. This should make the Senate more responsive to changing political concerns.
This would also have the effect, however, of substantially increasing the number of Senate votes from smaller states, clearly an advantage to those states. These two Amendments would dramatically increase the chances for success for a new Constitutional Convention.
About the merits of the proposed new Amendments, this is now for you to judge.
A Radical Centrist Vision for the Future > Acknowledgements (next)
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