Friday, February 12, 2010

David Brooks finally connects some dots

Sandy Levinson

In today's op-ed column, David Brooks comes far close than any other mainstream pundit to connecting the dots between our present discontents and our defective Constitution: "[I]t’s time to have a constitutional debate. We might require amendments of one sort or another to fix the broken political system." Amen, brother Brooks.

The next step, of course, might be actual discussion of at least one of the two books published in the past couple of years--the other one is Larry Sabato's A More Perfect Constitution, with 23 specific proposals--that actually engages in "constitutional debate." But that is probably expecting too much, since I Sabato's interesting and provocative book was no more widely reviewed than my own (though it did garner a respectful review from Robert Dahl in the Times). As I've tried to demonstrate repeatedly (many of you would no doubt say excessively), the established punditry, including Nobel Prize winners, have proved unable to connect the dots, save for, say, Rick Hertzberg's valuable commentary in the New Yorker over the past several years about the need to get rid of the electoral college. But, of course, that's a relatively small part of what ails the country, courtesy of the Constitution.

Perhaps Mr. Brooks' cautious steps in that direction will lead others to do so as well. But, of course, what are the odds of our remarkably cautious President actually leading such a debate, and will any other national political leader actually suggest that we need, in significant measure, to liberate ourselves from our ridiculous "veneration" for the current Constitution (as manifested in the other book reviewed by Dahl by Lane and Oreskes, How the Constitution Saved Our Country and Why It Can Do It Again))? I'm not holding my breath.

The worst of all worlds, from my perspective, would be the joint combination of a major "Tea Partier" trying to initiate such a debate and the mindless response by liberals that we have a perfect Constitution that shouldn't even be discussed, let alone amended. This was, by and large, the response to, say, the proposed "flag-burning" amendment, not that it wasn't a truly terrible idea (which it is), but, rather, that one shouldn't even think of touching anything related to the sacred Bill of Rights. (Needless to say, most persons taking this view would be delighted, I suspect, to repeal the Second Amendment, though for them that's probably not necessary because they adopt an "interpretation" of the Amendment that renders it irrelevant.)

I'm not allowing comments simply because a) I'm not really saying anything new and therefore b) I can't really imagine that any discussant would say anything that hasn't already been said more than enough times about whether the Constitution should be amended. When I have (what I regard) as a half-way original thought, I'll certainly allow comment!

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