A couple weeks ago, a writer by the name of Ryan Cooper published an article calling on Americans to “[t]row the entire Constitution in the garbage.” “The American Constitution is an outdated, malfunctioning piece of junk — and it's only getting worse,” Cooper writes. If we don’t change our entire system of government, we are headed for a constitutional collapse, he maintains.
One way of pushing back on this is immediately apparent. Throw out the ENTIRE Constitution, he says, so I guess that means we can start with his own freedom of the press by which he makes his living. Also, a lot of people fought and died for his Constitutional right to sneer at the Constitution and be well paid for it, but he doesn’t thank them in his article.
His main beef is gridlock. We don’t have a way to break legislative deadlocks, like calling snap elections the way they do in some other countries. Bipartisan compromise used to keep the U.S. government functioning, but now such compromise is nearly impossible, he says. Nearly impossible? He’s way overstating the case. Just this week, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 that the President signed into law. It was obtained fairly easily. No one had to move mountains to get it done.
Cooper recommends that America more closely resemble a parliamentary democracy like they have in the U.K. He says we should get rid of the Senate filibuster because it leads to legislative stand-offs and not much gets done. But the filibuster is not in the Constitution. It’s a Senate rule that can be changed or modified at any time. How is that an argument for throwing out the Constitution? It’s not.
We should also change the way House members are elected, Cooper says, not one to a district, but three in much larger districts to give third parties a better chance at getting seats. Again, the Constitution doesn’t say a word about political parties. So, again, he’s not shooting straight. We could do more to encourage the rise of third parties - and even evolve into a European-style system where lots of small parties form governing coalitions. We could do all this without changing a word of the Constitution. States and locales could change their threshold requirements, for example, to make it easier for third parties to get on the ballot. It wouldn’t take a Constitutional amendment to do that.
Cooper also wants us to change elections for the House from every two years to every four years. But he doesn’t say a word about why the Framers chose every two years – to keep the People’s House closer to the people. Important values would be lost if House elections were held every four years, but Cooper doesn’t even mention them.
Next, he argues the Senate is undemocratic because senators from small states can use various means to block the wishes of the majority of the U.S. population. Cooper wants to change the Senate into a House of Lords-style assembly with no power to vote on anything. Again, he is showing he is profoundly ignorant of important values. We don’t have a democracy in this country, and for good reason. We have a Republic to help keep a mob from controlling public policy. That’s the way the Founders set it up, but the word ‘republic’ is not even mentioned, much less discussed, in his article.
His biggest recommendation is to elect the President from among the members of the House – institute a parliamentary system of government, in other words. In a parliamentary system, the dominant party in a legislative chamber chooses the executive from among its members. In this, Cooper contradicts himself. Earlier, he was all hep on democracy when it came to the Senate, but he doesn’t mind denying ordinary people a say in choosing who will lead the country. He wants to take away their right to vote. That doesn’t sound democratic to me.
Separation of powers would be lessened under a parliamentary system, but that would be a good thing, in Cooper’s view. Separation of powers actually increases tyranny, he argues, because it sets up a strong executive and leads to runaway imperial Presidents. Maybe in some cases, but a parliamentary system increases the chances that a single political party can march us off a cliff. A House dominated by a single party electing a President from among its own members has no counterweight in the executive to prevent bad law from being made.
Cooper’s argument about separation of powers shows his profound ignorance once again. Read the Federalist Papers and you will understand that the main aim of the Founders was to prevent the concentration of too much power in too few hands. Clearly separating the executive from the legislative branch helps accomplish this because there are two competing centers of power instead of just one. A parliamentary system mingles the two branches, weakening separation of powers and leading to scenarios the Founders would have wanted to avoid, like a President and a House of the same party ganging up on the Senate to ram things into law. Heck, in Cooper’s ideal system, the Senate wouldn’t even have a vote. There would be no way for the Senate to stop anything.
We have enough problems with legislation being rammed down our throats, like Obamacare. We don’t need more problems along those lines. With Obamacare, one party controlled the House, the Senate, and the Presidency – a unified government, just like Cooper wants. The Democrats got their way and we’ve been fighting about it ever since. That’s better? I don’t see how. We don’t need more situations like that. A parliamentary system would make the President MORE powerful in many cases, not less.
We may not like gridlock, but it has its virtues. As the Founders knew, divided government is far preferable to the undue concentration of power or the tyranny of the majority. So embrace gridlock; gridlock can be good.
One final point: If you let assaults on the Constitution like this go unanswered, you will wake up one morning and the Constitution will be gone and all your rights with it – including freedom of the press. Please activate your networks when you see the Constitution being attacked like this, and push back.
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