Mr. Kennedy, How are you? I hope well. I was wondering, growing up, did you ever have an Old French sheepdog? My family had one, and I was told he was out of a litter from your family’s dog. He was named Bixby --“Bixby the Great” I used to call him. Funny how you can miss a dog, writing today reminds me of him.
What prompted me to write though, is a friend, a retired Los Angeles City Fire Captain and fellow progressive, recently e-mailed a YouTube clip of the May 1st speech you gave in New York City. You touched on all the important things, just as you did when you were last out here to Santa Barbara. In fact it was that speech which prompted me to get in touch with River Keepers, and I spoke with Alex Matthiesson about a project I had been working on. It’s gone through a transformation since, and that, coupled with the recent video clip, has me writing you an open letter today.
Since it’s an open letter, I hope you don’t mind me seeming a bit didactic -- I just want to take it from the top and nail everything down. And by saying that, I hope you don’t take me to be a politico, I’m not. I’m just a writer/artist who loves his country, takes citizenship seriously, and is compelled by circumstance to speak up. I’d like to have my vote do my talking for me, but with the emergence of HAVA I don’t feel that’s really an option any longer.
The thing I like most about your speeches is the emphasis on the importance of the Fairness Doctrine. A lot of folks looking for solutions to the problems faced today often overlook the fact that we lost it sometime in the 1980s. As sapient beings, is there anything more important than information? Ben Franklin once said half the truth is often a great lie, and without a Fairness Doctrine half-truths are what we’ll continue to get from corporate media.
Is it deliberate? Is it a conspiracy? Whatever one thinks, those questions are a waste of time -- more importantly, what are we going to do about it? What can we do about it? Most everyone today perceives the Constitution to be a big gray wall open to interpretation. The distinction to be made though, is that it’s composed of two types of law: civil law, and structural law. The civil law can be debated all day and forever, but the structural law is not open to interpretation.
The structural law revolves around the word "shall," which is what the rule of law pivots on. Of all the instances of it in the Constitution, I believe the most significant for us today is found in Article V and the convention clause: Congress shall call a convention. As you may or may not know, the issue has been misinterpreted over the years, and I think even your father got it wrong, if I’m correctly remembering research I had done some years back.
The traditional concern has been that if we convoke a convention all sorts of radical elements would show up and chaos and calamity would ensue -- that politicians might rewrite the work of the framers -- that merely discussing something might somehow accidentally turn it into law.
I’m not sure how Americans came to think about the convention clause in this way, but the fears are totally irrational because no matter who the delegates are, or what they think, they can’t ratify anything. The convention is simply a grand discussion, no more dangerous to the Constitution and national security than the Sunday morning talk shows.
The beauty of the mechanism is that the ratification process requires 75% of the states’ approval before an amendment proposal becomes law. The reason the framers set the bar that high is because they knew whatever the proposal, whether it be conservative or liberal, it would have to get all of one group signed on, plus at least half of the other. In other words ratification sanctifies the popular will.
With that safeguard in place, I say let’s not sell ourselves short. Yes, there will be bad proposals, even ugly proposals, but there will obviously be delegates who are honest, sincere -- who care -- and have enough common sense to propose what the country really needs. People like you.
Congress is not likely to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, and even if there were reports it might, legislation is not going to bear the political weight needed this far down the road. The situation with both media reform and electoral reform clearly requires a constitutional amendment.
I imagine you’ve read some of the work of C. G. Jung? Well, he’s got a quote: “Man lives in psyche.” Within the context, what he’s saying is that the world we share is like a collective dream we’re all participating in. When I ponder it, if we are to hold a convention, I can’t think of the dream unfolding in a better way than to have the son of one of our great modern leaders broaching the idea into the popular discourse -- that it’s now time America call it’s first Article V Convention.
Even if the country is too polarized to adopt an amendment, simply carrying out the convention clause would be a ministerial act, which by itself will return the nation to the rule of law. Because no one knows what will be proposed, or what might be ratified, politicians are going to put the houses in order.
The framers understood this dynamic. In fact if you read Federalist 85 you’ll find the convention clause was the final rebuttal to the Anti-Federalists -- that if the federal legislature ever became corrupt, the states could step in with a convention. Not only is it a rudimentary form of proper governance, for us today, the act would do much to restore our credibility in the eyes of the world. By holding a convention we would redeem our standing by showing the rest of the world Americans do not stand by while errant officials and policy overthrow thoughtful diplomacy.
I saw a clip of your dad once. It was from a campaign stop in a rural part of America, and he was talking about putting the people before the special interests of the government. Well, let’s be honest, special interests have taken over in the Congress to the point that corruption has become institutionalized; to the point that lobbyists now write the legislation it signs off on.
It doesn’t matter anymore what the members say, and it’s not their fault. The military/industrial effect on governance is no one person’s fault, your relatives included. But here we are, the electorate saddled with a legislative branch that’s failing to act to protect not only the things a society needs to function properly, but the ideals that have made us first among nations.