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Why We Need A New Constitution: Part 2 of 21

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AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting Federal Government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire, in many respects, the most interesting in the world. [1]

- Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 1

The Constitution of the United States, currently residing in a helium-filled glass case in Washington, D.C., was drafted in 1787. The America of 1787, a country with a population nearly half that of the New York City of 1987, was a country predominantly comprised of farmers. For that pastoral time (a time which saw the creation of idyllic works of music like Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik), the form of Government designed by the Framers was perfectly adequate, allowing America's natural magnificence to blossom. However, as the Third Millennium approaches, more and more Americans are beginning to feel that in many critical respects, our form of Government is now "out of joint" with the times. We have had, in Hamilton's words, "an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting federal government." Our problems have steadily mounted, and it is becoming increasingly clear that our Government will not, or cannot, deal with these problems. Consequently, there has been a noticeable increase in frustration with our political system, as The New York Times reported in 1991:

To many Americans, politics has become remote and sterile, posing false choices. For all the angry abortion debate, as an example, most Americans could probably agree in two minutes on a six-word policy: Discourage abortions but don't ban them. Yet in the political arena, the extremist fury drags on for still more years, oblivious to urgent concerns . . . In a sobering new report, the Kettering Foundation's David Mathews cites reaction 'against a political system that is perceived as so autonomous that the public is no longer able to control and direct it. People talk as though our political system had been taken over by alien beings.'[2]

However, dissatisfaction with Government is nothing new in America, since our complaints with Government are structurally based - that is, societal maladies and unrest have arisen directly from the structure of Government instituted by the Framers. For this reason, historical criticisms appear contemporary. Consider this paragraph, written by Frank Cook (editor of the New York World) in 1923:

The American people were never before so critical of their government as they are now. They were never before so cynical about their government. They rail at the politicians, they jeer at Congress, they blackguard the President, whoever he happens to be, but they never stop to inquire whether their government was established to meet the demands they are making on it. If they did, they would be obliged to admit that it was not. They ask a rigid, inflexible government to function as a responsible and flexible government. They ask a government of checks and balances to function as a political manifestation of democracy. They ask a government of co-ordinate and independent branches to function as a unit. It cannot be done. In spite of all their ardent devotion to the Constitution, it is apparent that they know little about the Constitution. They have turned it into a fetish and they burn a vast quantity of incense before it, but they have forgotten its origins and have lost contact with its purposes. What they think it is, or what they think it must be, is something that it was never intended to be, and can never be made to be, except by a process of almost revolutionary revision. [3]

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Complaining about Government has become one of the less enjoyable American pastimes. But as Cook perceptively noted, people have consistently failed to discover the fountainhead of the American pathology. It has been said that the one thing people can learn from history is that people have learned nothing from history, and contemporary experience is providing a ringing endorsement of that dictum. But somewhere, somehow, the cycle must stop, and people must heed Cook's advice, and begin the process of constitutional analysis - an analysis that of necessity begins with an examination of the symptoms of deep-rooted troubles: our seemingly intransigent societal ills.


[1] Federalist 1, p. 2 (Hamilton). Punctuation and spelling modified for readability.
[2] The New York Times, July 21, 1991, p. E-16.
[3] "Is our Democracy Stagnant?", June 1923, Harper's Magazine, quoted in A New Constitution Now, pp. 42-43.

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Barry Krusch is president of Intelligent Communities, Inc., sponsors of The Intelligent Community Initiative. He is also author of 2 books, The 21st Century Constitution and Would The Real First Amendment Please Stand Up?
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