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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/17/09

Constitution 2.0

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Most Americans believe in their hearts that the Constitution still works, and that the American government is still legitimate. They don't recognize that six decades of the national security state have turned their beloved Constitution into a piece of trash - "a goddamned piece of paper," as George W. Bush is reported to have described it. And Barack Obama isn't treating it much better.


American democracy truly died when the national security establishment murdered John F. Kennedy. And until more people start admitting that to themselves, and wake up from their media-induced hypnosis, we will be trapped in our ever-present downward spiral of Wall Street thievery, environmental destruction, media brainwashing, rampant militarism and random planetary violence, all legitimized by our nostalgic faith in a no longer functioning document.


No matter what single-issue progressive battles we may win, the fact is, we have already lost the war. Real democracy is gone, and won't ever be recovered on the federal level. Washington is occupied territory, swarming with enemies of the people.


The United States of America needs a new Constitution.


If the generation of Americans who formed our Constitution were transported through time to the early 21st century, Federalist and Antifederalist alike would be horrified at the government their work had wrought.


Instead of a federation of independent states, where power arises from local political machines, and political independence is based on the economic independence of citizens-ninety percent of whom are self-employed farmers, merchants and artisans, as they were in 1790-the founding generation would see a massively centralized federal empire, its standing armies spread across the globe: a government with little decent respect for the opinions of humankind, a government where power flows from the top and every president is, as Bob Woodward says, "surrounded by a phalanx of CEOs," and where ninety percent of American citizens today toil in debt slavery for corporate masters to slake the greed of the power elite.


Even the Antifederalists would be shocked at how their warnings about the evils of centralized power have been so fully realized.


They would see a government presently scrambling to rescue the preceding administration from answering to the rule of law and to the precepts of the Constitution and international treaties. A government continuing the Bush Doctrine of military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and including in its cabinet a held-over Secretary of Defense who has served as a Bush family operative in many intelligence and defense capacities over the years, including as CIA director. A government answering to the same finance, energy and defense interests that every administration since JFK has loyally served. A government that, in all ways, unites corporate and state interests-the very definition of fascism.


The founding generation would be hard pressed to explain how their intricate system of checks and balances could be so easily packaged and sold off to the highest bidder. They'd be scratching their heads over a judiciary branch that entertains the absurdity that a corporation-a dangerous entity that needs strict control (Thomas Jefferson wanted a constitutional amendment to that effect)-should have the same rights as a "person," or that the Bill of Rights so necessary to the Constitution's adoption has so little relevance to post-9/11 America.


They'd be flummoxed that the government has expanded in such a way that the legislative branch would include a Senate where a minority of the US population would control a majority of the votes, and a Representative would have more than 22 times the number of constituents stipulated in Article I (30,000, because the Framers thought 40,000 was too many-in other words, every American has less than 5 percent of the representation in Congress the Framers intended).


The nation's founders would be most disturbed, however, by the change in character of the executive branch, and by the imperial nature of the 21st-century presidency.


A president who has assumed legislative power-in the declaration of pre-emptive wars, where the intelligence has been "fixed" to suit the policy-and judicial power-in affixing "signing statements" that give the executive's interpretation of law priority ("If the president does it, it's legal.")-resembles more the tyrants whose dictatorial power the Framers feared than the president they modeled on the relatively modest George Washington. They'd be most astonished to hear that two sociopaths, who share the characteristic common to all serial killers of a history of ruthless cruelty to animals, had falsely occupied the offices of president and vice president of the United States.


On the other hand, it is not surprising that the financial descendants of the colonial aristocracy who wrote the Constitution should have spent the past two centuries consolidating their wealth and power, and frustrating the promise-widely held throughout early America, as Alexis de Tocqueville discovered-that political equality would eventually yield, as a natural consequence, economic equality.


In his book, "Democracy, Inc.", political scientist Sheldon Wolin gets to the root of why popular movements for reform in America are so often frustrated, even with a sympathetic president. He traces it to a strain of elitism inherent in the very notion of "republican" government-an elitism echoed today in the right wing talking point that "America is a republic, not a democracy."


Wolin follows the intellectual development of "republicanism" from Machiavelli-who never argued "in defense of popular participation, much less of democratization of politics," but nevertheless "favored the people [rather than aristocrats] as a reliable 'foundation' for power principally because they did not demand much"-to the 17th-century English civil wars, where "advocates of republicanism proposed a blend of Machiavellian competence with Puritan notions of an 'elect' to produce a new variant of elitism." It was this elite concept of republicanism that migrated to the New World and, Wolin says, "dominated" the formation of the American republic.


"With the possible (and ambivalent) exception of Jefferson," he writes, "the American republicans were steadfast critics of democracy. When they decided that it was time to draft a new constitution, they treated as axiomatic that a modern political system had to make concessions to democratic sentiments without conceding governance to 'the people.' Accordingly they composed a masterful translation of republicanism that drew a line indicating what was to be allowed and what excluded from the democratic aspirations aroused by the struggle for independence from Britain.

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Michael Hasty wrote a column for 7 years at the Hampshire Review, West Virginia's oldest newspaper, named "best column" in 2000 by the WV Press Association. His writings have appeared at hundreds of websites, including Online Journal, Common (more...)

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