Article V, Constitutional Convention, Democracy.

Posted February 11, 2014

by Jerry Alatalo

“It is, Sir, the people’s Constitution, the people’s government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people.”

– Daniel Webster (1782-1852)

mountain55When listening to a number of interviews recently there were some mentions of “Constitutional Convention” and Article V. So, the decision to look further into the concept was made, and there seems to be an excellent potential/promise for increasing genuine democracy. The genesis of a movement for an Article V Constitutional Convention may have been the Citizens United ruling, which allowed unlimited spending on elections: a huge change with regard to democracy that has caused a very large backlash.

Most men and women with any knowledge of Citizens United, after they become aware of the now even more pervasive influence of money in elections, have immediately recognized how corrosive of democracy the Supreme Court’s ruling was. After two years and many articles, analyses, and reports on the controversial ruling, movements have come into existence to rally the people for efforts to bring a Constitutional Amendment for its reversal.

The essential argument against Citizens United is that it allows wealthy individuals and corporations to buy democracy. Due to lack of free, lengthy, all-inclusive debates in campaign races at all levels from city to county to state to national, campaign advertising has become the road to success in “selling” candidates to voters. So, just as “there is such a thing as a free press, if you own one”, there is “such a thing as winning elections, if you advertise more than your political opponent”.

When one compares candidates/elections to companies now after Citizens United, one sees the parallel of “winning” business and sales through blanketing of the TV screens and airwaves to “winning” elections through blanketing of TV screens, etc. In essence genuine democracy – since the time when advertising became part of running for office – has morphed into corporate-and-wealthy democracy. Advertising on elections and campaign contributions have become so pervasive that now on Earth 85 individuals possess wealth equal to 3.5 billion people.

So, it has become painfully obvious that money has become far too influential in the political processes of nations around the world, especially in the United States, and people are sensing an urgency to take action to repair the very out-of-kilter situation.

Enter Article V of the Constitution. In every state of America men and women have either begun, or are making plans to begin, talking to their state’s legislators to start toward a nationwide Constitutional Convention to amend Citizens United. The magic number of states needed to move toward a convention is 34. There are debates happening on the nuts-and-bolts of how to implement a Constitutional Convention, as it would be the first time in America one has been convened.

Some worry about a “runaway convention” where amendments would pile up like automobiles at rush hour, with crazy ideas/amendments proposed and gumming up the process to an unmanageable status. Then there are questions about how to choose delegates. Should delegates to a convention be elected or should they be chosen by lottery or another method? How many amendments? One, two, twenty? Perhaps the framework of such a convention would best be created with as wide a view, as wide and open-minded to proposals and ideas, as possible.

Concerns about a “runaway” eventuality with regard to a Constitutional Convention are overblown and are entirely addressable. The debate about Article V’s implementation, given (as one law professor discussion panelist on Article V put it) that King George’s legislative body would probably have a higher approval rating than today’s Congress: 11%, is low on the list of concerns. A Constitutional Convention is best seen as a national emergency meeting to deal with some real, very large issues of concern. Any wacked out ideas will quickly become filtered out and rejected as the process moves forward.

What is so promising about an Article V convention is that new ideas are needed in the United States and the world, those ideas would attend the meeting along with the delegates – and those which have real merit will be obvious to the men and women who vote whether or not to implement them. Muddling along with the hope that “everything will re-balance and we’ll be back to normal” is no longer a viable option for America. Because the 535 men and women in the Congress and Senate have, for the most part, been bought and paid for.

Because a convention to amend the Constitution is so rare, there are legitimate questions about complex issues in its implementation. A set of rules must first be created to successfully conduct a good convention that results in the effects that Article V was written for hundreds of years ago. The major focus must remain on wide consensus ideas that are obvious in their beneficial aspects. This set of rules can be developed and worked out in a “pre-convention rules convention” that takes the best proposals, and engineers the most obviously satisfactory rules framework – to arrive at the most beneficial effects.

The Constitution was written a long, long time ago and times, conditions, and society have changed a great deal since then. Pushing the button on Article V is a good idea, which will go down in history as a great American achievement – a profoundly democratic action – that can only result in a “more perfect union”. Those who express opposition to a Constitutional Convention are understood in their concerns about the possible “experimenting with the Constitution” or “putting the Constitution up for grabs”.

But America began as a courageous experiment in Democracy. 


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