Tuesday, February 16, 2010

call a convention?

If you've been reading the news lately, you know that talk of America's decline is all the rage. Jacob Weisberg at Slate thinks we the people are mostly to blame. He makes a good point. On most important issues, poll results display the shocking failure of Americans to recognize trade-offs and generally stay even minimally informed. Can you blame politicians when voters send them such mixed and incoherent messages?

Most of the concern has been around the filibuster and Republican obstructionism. If 40 senators, representing less than 30% of the population, can block any important legislation, then it’s no wonder that the government is putting off a lot of problems. From a game-theoretical perspective, the Republicans are playing predictably irrational strategy and hoping that it will pay off down the line. They’re like a ganster who says he’ll kill you if you steal his apple, even though he’ll end up in jail for it. If he can convince you that he’s serious, you won’t go near his apple, even though it would be irrational for him to kill you afterward. If the Republicans can convince Democrats that they’ll let the country collapse before they vote for any Democratic legislation, then they might just end up with a lot more Republican-looking legislation.

More generally, though, there’s a feeling that everything wrong with America comes back to shoddy government at all levels, (brilliantly and depressingly argued here!), especially in light of the recent Supreme Court decision overturning most of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance legislation. That decision has inspired calls for a convention to amend the constitution. So far, all the amendments to the Constitution have been adopted through a vote in Congress and the legislatures of the states; a convention bypassing Congress altogether would be a first since the Constitution's adoption.

The page linked above, started by Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, proposes specifically an amendment that would relate to the financing of elections. But while we’re at it, why not go further? The Constitution has served us well, but let’s be honest, some of it needs an overhaul. For instance, the Senate. I realize, that, realistically, there’s no way the Senate will ever go away, because small states wield way too much power to ever go along…which is precisely the problem. The “great compromise” that created the Senate made sense because the US really was more a collection of states with regional interests than a nation.

Since the Civil War, though, it’s become more and more integrated. And that means another facet of the national government doesn’t make much sense anymore: direct, as opposed to parliamentary, representation. Actual voting patterns bear this out pretty clearly: the US is divided along ideological, not regional, lines. A Republican in New York would be better represented by a Republican representative from Oregon than a Democrat in New York. Not gonna happen anytime soon, I realize. But a convention would get the ball rolling…so sign up and support it!

1 comment:

  1. How great was that Fallows article? My favorite thing about it was how it got you feeling pretty optimistic and proud, and then BAM! SUCKER PUNCH! Everything is awful!