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A More Perfect Constitution: 23 Proposals to…
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A More Perfect Constitution: 23 Proposals to Revitalize Our Constitution…

by Larry J. Sabato

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Richie's Picks: A MORE PERFECT CONSTITUTION: 23 PROPOSALS TO REVITALIZE OUR CONSTITUTION AND MAKE AMERICA A FAIRER COUNTRY by Larry J. Sabato, Walker, October 2007, ISBN: 0-8027-1621-0

"It's worth remembering that the Philadelphia Framers were operating in something of a pressure-packed vacuum. They were attempting to build a system that had never existed in this form before, and to do it with dispatch. Much of what they build was pure jerry-rigged experimentation. Moreover, they recognized this and fully expected that future generations of Americans would rework their designs to fit both actual practice and the needs of new times."

Awakening early on my first morning at last week's ALA convention, I was up and out of the D.C. youth hostel at 6 A.M., off on an early morning stroll over to the Mall and around the U.S. Capitol building before attending a publisher's breakfast to which I'd been invited. It is just so inspiring to be wandering around the middle of Washington D.C. early on a beautiful Saturday morning! Thirty-six years after standing on the steps of the Capitol while participating in my first antiwar rally, I stood there again and gazed down the length of the Mall, past the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial sitting shrouded in the early morning mist.

Later that same day I rode the Metro subway northward to the Embassy of the Czech Republic, where Czech-born children's author/illustrator Peter Sis, an early-Eighties defector to America, was honored by the exceptionally charming Czech Ambassador for Sis' upcoming illustrated memoir of growing up behind the Iron Curtain titled THE WALL.

Such a day, striding amidst the symbols of our government and our nation's Founders, recalling the freedoms to which I've always had the rights, I could not help but recognize and be thankful for the good fortune of being born an American.

"In the early years of the Republic, the population ratio of the most populated state, Virginia, and the least populated state, Delaware was 12 to 1. In 2004 that ratio was an incredible 70 to 1 between California and tiny Wyoming. Therefore, the current Senate is absurdly skewed in the direction of the small states. Theoretically, if the 26 smallest states held together on all votes, they would control the United States Senate, with a total of just under 17% of the country's population...Even if 59 of the 100 senators favor a particular bill, it will fail if the filibuster is employed, since 60 votes are needed to invoke 'cloture" -- the shutting off of the filibuster to permit a floor vote to proceed. Therefore, just 21 states can provide the 41 senators necessary to block action. The 21 most lightly populated states comprise a mere 11.2% of the nation's population as the Senate is currently constituted."

But, gosh, the rest of the year back here in California, watching, horrified, what my taxes are being spent on (and not being spent on), I feel exceptionally frustrated, unheard and, yes, sometimes embarrassed to be an American. To say the very least, the system just does not work as it should. As noted above, even when a majority of our elected representatives actually agree on something that makes sense, arcane rules regularly allow a small minority of Senators to prevent the will of the people from being enacted into law or even expressed in a resolution.

And the System is seriously stacked in favor of the entrenched incumbents:

"The Founders could not in their wildest nightmares have imagined today's redistricted House, where elaborate, exquisite computer programs permit the politicians to carve up the map precisely to protect virtually every incumbent, while draining the competition out of House elections...Instead of the people choosing their House members, the House members now use redistricting to choose their voters."

Back when the Constitution was first ratified, the 65 original members of the U.S. House of Representatives each represented approximately 60,000 individuals. You can easily seat that many constituents in San Francisco's Candlestick Park (or whatever they are calling it these days). It's quite a crowd, but over time, if you had something important to say, you'd have at least some chance of catching the ear of your member of Congress. Nowadays, each member of the House represents almost three-quarters of a million Americans. That's the equivalent of the entire city of San Francisco. And you know, with a crowd that size, only a fraction of them are going to be getting though the gates, and the only people getting quality face-to-face service from that repeatedly-elected member of Congress are the lobbyists and the big campaign contributors who can spring for season tickets and front-row seats.

Professor Larry J. Sabato, a Rhodes Scholar who is the founder and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, has compiled 23 sets of proposals for amending the U.S. Constitution in order to make things fairer in the 21st Century. For each of these proposals he has also provided extensive, well-reasoned arguments for all sides of the debates that would take place if such proposals could actually be brought up for consideration.

"The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Applications of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress..."

Sabato advocates utilization of that portion of the Constitutional amendment process that permits the states to vote for convening a Constitutional Convention, reasoning that a serious push for change is not going to come from Congress:

"Congress has proven to be a dependable graveyard for constitutional reform. More than 3,000 amendments have been proposed in Congress over the last forty years, with a grand total of six sent to the states for their consideration -- and none at all since 1978. While many of the amendments may have been bad ideas or poorly conceived, surely more than six were worthy of deliberation in the states."

While I certainly am not in agreement with all of Professor Sabato's proposals -- not even a majority of them (yet) -- there are certainly a fair number of them that seem well worth considering. For instance:

There are proposals, dealing with the grim realities of our world today, that would allow for members of the House of Representatives to be temporarily replaced in rapid fashion in the event that a significant portion of them were killed or incapacitated in a terrorist attack. Currently there is no way to insure a continuity of government operations -- even during a time of national crisis special elections would have to be conducted before new House members could be seated and get to work.

There is a proposal to increase the size of the Senate, giving the ten most-populous states four Senators instead of two and giving the eleventh through twenty-fifth most populous states three Senators instead of two. This would also, then, alter the composition of the Electoral College and bring the Electoral College results more consistently in line with the national popular vote for President.

There are proposals for dealing with the shocking situation whereby over half of a million Americans who live in Washington, D.C. are still not represented by voting members in Congress.

There is a proposal to limit Supreme Court justices to a single 15-year term.

There is a proposal for an automatic voter registration system for all qualified American citizens.

Sabato also proposes that all able-bodied young Americans be required to "devote two years of their lives to the service of their nation," choosing from a wide variety of options.

There are dozens of other possible amendments that are presented so equal-handedly from both sides that I am still not decided whether they would be beneficial or detrimental.

Hey, this guy is a fascinating professor -- if he teaches online seminar classes, you can sign me up for one today.

"Politicians in government should be changed regularly, like diapers, and for the same reason."
-- Richard Davies

Whether or not you share the sentiments of term-limits aficionado Richard Davies, Larry Sabato's A MORE PERFECT CONSTITUTION is a very readable, thought-provoking presentation of important 21st Century Constitutionally-related American issues. Whether one is a student of American history or just someone who turns on the tube at night and grumbles, "There they go again," this book offers lots for us Americans to think and talk about.

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/
BudNotBuddy@aol.com
http://www.myspace.com/richiespicks ( )
  richiespicks | May 27, 2009 |
Mr. Sabato suggestions are an excellent starting point. That said I believe his suggestions applied in total will weaken the Federal form of government toward the problems of direct democracy. I do believe his suggestion to increase the membership of the House of Representatives is solid and if applied would go a long way toward enfranchising many of the disillusioned. Certainly smaller districts will produce candidates more familiar to the electorate and at the same time dilute the effect of lobbying. ( )
  4bonasa | Mar 7, 2008 |
In his new book A More Perfect Constitution (Walker & Company, 2007) Larry Sabato, the founder and director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics lays out a series of twenty-three proposals for constitutional revision. These amendments would, he argues, bring the Constitution into the twenty-first century by making the structures of our government more fair, more representative, and more effective.

Most of us are instinctively leery of major structural changes to the Constitution, and with good reason - it's lasted for more than two centuries, and has served the United States well. At first glance, some if not many of Sabato's proposals seem unnecessary, unpalatable, or both. But after reading his justifications for them, I was convinced by both the desirability and the necessity of nearly all of them.

Since Sabato's stated purpose with his book is to promote a great debate over these ideas, and to prompt what he terms a "generational process of moderate, well-considered change," I've begun a discussion here of his proposals by outlining them in brief and adding my own views as they currently stand (I will admit that some of them changed just in the course of reading this book). I have attempted as much as possible to keep Sabato's proposals separate from my own opinions so as not to influence others' perceptions of his ideas, but I do encourage everyone interested in this discussion to read his book, where he makes his case in much greater and persuasive detail.

I don’t agree with all of Sabato’s proposals; I doubt anyone will. I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with my views either. But I do think these points are all worth debating, and I agree with Sabato that we shouldn’t simply accept the Constitution as it stands, but should examine how it works and what, if anything, we can do to make it better for the nation. Some of the changes Sabato suggests would, I submit, make our government work better, and I applaud him for putting out this plan for us all to discuss and consider. Whether anything will come of it remains to be seen, but certainly nothing will happen if we just ignore the proposals.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2007/10/book-review-more-perfect-constitution.ht... ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Oct 13, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802716210, Hardcover)

"No society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs to the living generation."--Thomas Jefferson

"A constitution intended to endure for years to come [is] consequently to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs."--John Marshall
 
"This book will ask readers to set aside their own political loyalties, to look past the current 'values' debates and hot-button issues, to consider this very real possibility: that the failure of the nation to update the Constitution and the structure of government it originally bequeathed to us is at the root of our current political dysfunction."--Larry Sabato
 
The political book of the year, from the acclaimed founder and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
 
Larry Sabato has one of the most visionary and fertile political minds in America. Like so many, he is increasingly alarmed at the growing dysfunction and unfairness of our political system. To solve this, to restore the equity for ordinary citizens that is at the core of our democratic society, we must take a radical step--to revise the Constitution, the document that guides our political process, for until some of its outmoded provisions are reformed, we will only have more of the same.
The original framers fully expected the Constitution to be regularly revised by succeeding generations to reflect the country's changing needs; yet, apart from the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights, it has only been amended 17 times in 220 years, and most of those amendments had minor ramifications. Today, partisan gridlock dominates Washington; 17 percent of voters elect a majority of senators; the presidency has assumed unprecedented and unintended powers; while politicians spend as much time campaigning for office as they do governing; and average Americans feel more and more disconnected from the political process so that half or more don't vote in many elections--all of which would have horrified Jefferson and Madison.
A More Perfect Constitution presents twenty three creative and dynamic proposals to reinvigorate American governance at a time when such change is urgently needed. Combining idealism and pragmatism, and with full respect for the original document, Sabato's thought-provoking ideas range from the length of the president's term in office and the number and terms of Supreme Court justices to the structure of Congress, the vagaries of the antiquated Electoral College, and a compelling call for universal national service--all laced through with the history behind each issue and their potential impact on the lives of ordinary people.
Aware that such changes won't happen easily, Sabato urges us nonetheless to engage in the debate and discussion they will surely engender. As we head towards a presidential election year, no book is more relevant or significant than his.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:32 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Calls for revisions to the Constitution to restore equity for ordinary citizens and offers proposals to reinvigorate the document to incorporate changes to the structure of Congress, the Electoral College, the Supreme Court, and a mandatory national service.… (more)

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