Thursday, December 20, 2007

Greetings to viewers of the Bill Moyers Journal

Should you be interested in weighing in on the issues that Bill Moyers and I discussed regarding the wisdom of assessing the Constitution against 21st century values and realities, please feel free to respond to this posting. It would be wonderful to get a serious conversation started!

sandy levinson


Anonymous Jeff Clark said...

Wonderful interview with Bill Moyers, Mr. Levinson.

As a supporter of Ron Paul, I wonder how his leadership style might facilitate any of the great insights you brought up.

Or is this something that must only come from the bottom up?

December 21, 2007 9:02 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

One of the best, most stimulating conversations, I have seen in a long time...

December 21, 2007 9:09 PM  
Blogger Raymond said...

I found your discussion with Bill Moyers fascinating,although you gave short shrift, if any, to the reasons for the elements of the "hard-wired" constitution you find unacceptable. The Electoral College, in addition to the Senate, was set up to balance the densely-populated states against the sparse-populated ones, and I doubt that split has changed. You seem to want a democracy, which was precisely what could not be accepted by all the people putting the constitution together.

December 21, 2007 9:10 PM  
Anonymous nsmartist said...

Your comments on what could have happened after a mass attack on Capital Hill in terms of diabled Senators fulfilling their terms and the ideas of the Supreme Court life appointment as an imbalance of power are just two reasons why a periodic Constitutional review would be beneficial. Our increasingly shrinking world due to technology and increasing life expectancy are issues the framers of the constitution could not foresee. I liked so many of your thoughts. They resonated in my gut .

December 21, 2007 9:15 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

Seems to Me one of the most efficient and quickest way to bring our national government "to the People" is elimination of the electorial college. What an arcane way to elect our Countrys Leader, who is the Commander in Chief...currently without a National mandate or vote!!

December 21, 2007 9:15 PM  
Anonymous senglert said...

Mr. Levinson,
Should I serve on a citizen panel to revise the U.S. Constitution, I would propose a prohibition on tenure for college professors.
Nothing personal, but tenured academics tend to become so insulated and isolated from reality that their well-intentioned ideas often produce more harm than good.
The Constitution doesn't need revision; our elected leaders need to support the document as written!
That's why I support Ron Paul.
Who are you endorsing for president?

December 21, 2007 9:20 PM  
Blogger Shaun said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your interview on Bill Moyers' Journal, Mr. Levinson. I agree that our current constitutional framework often confers enormous power on sparsely populated states by way of unequal representation in the Senate and, to an extent, in the electoral college. However, were reforms to make our government more democratic enacted, what institutional safeguards could be put in place to protect the interests of less populous states from being ignored by larger, wealthier, more urbanized states? While perhaps preferable to the current situation, wouldn't such changes to the Constitution risk this problem of majority rule trampling on minority interests?

December 21, 2007 9:21 PM  
Anonymous Ditch said...

Sadly, I only caught the end of the interview. But I have been reflecting for several months that our nation could use a prime minister to get the everyday business accomplished, and a president that does the hand holding and tree-lightings. My sense is that Reagan was a president of this ilk, for example, George Bush I a PM.

I think the electoral college can be salvaged by eliminating the winner take all system. We could assign 1 electoral vote to the winner of each House district (which, with the exceptions of the Wyomings, et al) are of close to equal population, and just assign the two 'senate' electoral votes to the state's overall winner.

December 21, 2007 9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for a fascinating discussion on Bill Moyers Journal. Whether right or wrong, most Americans believe the US is the most democractic country on earth. Our outsized prison population renders many who would be most concerned with undemocracy disenfranchised, some for life. Given the above perception and reality, at what point would there be a tipping point toward a new constitutional convention. Could entrenched status quo interests ensure that no such change takes place? If so, what shape would that take and what would the long-term ramification. Thanks.

December 21, 2007 9:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been reading an online book called "Beyond Plutocracy" by Roger D. Rothenberger. He presents the idea of a fourth branch of government called the Demos, which would be all of-age voters voting directly on issues. After the show I was curious of your view on direct democracy.

December 21, 2007 9:58 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Okay, let's assume we were to eliminate the Senate. Power would instantly shift to urban centers. Already weak in economic and cultural influence, in a pure democracy the upper Midwest would also be stripped of political power.

This is dangerous. There's no reason to think democratic governments are necessarily *virtuous* governments. For example, what's to prevent a future federal government from converting unpopulated states like Wyoming into vast nuclear waste dumps or prison colonies?

Concentrated power is always dangerous. Diluted power can lead to gridlock, but at least it makes tyranny and oppression less likely.


December 21, 2007 10:35 PM  
Anonymous abarefootboy said...

Mr. Levinson , I was heartened by your discussion with Bill Moyers. Your trail blazing efforts will help us to establish our bearings.

Your idea of choosing at random a group of American citizens to begin earnest Constitutional resuscitation is brilliant.

I would suggest such an undertaking might engage the greater citizenry by the establishment of a convergence of a new cable network similar to CSPAN and the great immediacy of Internet connectivity given to us by the blogs.

I believe this work might benefit by the American people beginning the work of crafting a mission statement that reflects a greater vision for ourselves and our children.

December 21, 2007 11:18 PM  
OpenID lazyz said...

Thank you for your clarity and courage. Even here in Wyoming you make perfect sense, if only sense could be valued above self interest. I fear for us humans. I'm with you.

December 21, 2007 11:44 PM  
Anonymous dawn said...

i thoroughly enjoyed this interview with bill moyers. although I may not have a deep understanding all of the issues discussed, i can't say that i disagree with any of them. i especially appreciated your thoughts on the supreme court and the electoral college. these are outdated and need to be changed.

December 22, 2007 12:09 AM  
Blogger miss h said...

I'm so intrigued by your ideas of starting a periodic Constitutional Convention. Perhaps you address this more in your book (which I'll now have to read), but I wonder how we start such a process?

Thank you for opening this dialogue.

December 22, 2007 12:12 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Here's a thought the interview inspired for me: what if schoolchildren were required to recite the preamble of the Constitution in addition to or instead of the Pledge of Allegiance? Before you flame me, consider: what defines this nation? Is it the flag (a symbol), or is it the aggregation of ideas and the rule of law (described in the Constitution) that we should truly honor? Moreover, why not put a copy of the Constitution on the wall of every classroom in America? Perhaps these small changes would foster a greater understanding of the ideals on which our society is founded... and perhaps spur some much needed dialog.

December 22, 2007 12:39 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Thank you for your provocative conversation with Bill Moyers. I feel remarkably hopeful as a result. Maybe it would be possible to see proportional representation, instant run-off voting, and a national health plan in my lifetime.

December 22, 2007 1:36 AM  
Blogger mulp said...

Well, the Constitution was never intended to be democratic. And the one obvious, at least to me, alternative to the current structure is not democracy but consensus.

Democracy swept the US into a war in Iraq, and one of the Senators you seem to think has too much power because he comes from a small State, Robert Byrd, spoke out against the war, predicting just what has happened.

I haven't checked, but of those voting against the Iraq war non-declaration in the fall 2002, how many were defeated that year?

On matters that are deemed important, a two-thirds vote is required to do anything, or shall we say, less than one-third must stand in the way. If the House, Senate, or president stand in the way, nothing is done, unless two-thirds of both the House and Senate override. It isn't democratic, nor consensus, but something in between.

I would note that consensus does force the stubborn into agreement; the climate change conference operates, as most UN and science decision making, by consensus and Bush, the anti-science climate change denier, was forced to agree to commit to action on climate change, and in the energy bill passed by the House and Senate he agreed even as he was blocking California's action on climate change.

I would like to see approval voting be widely used because it selects the candidate that is the closest to the consensus candidate. Government should not be done by winners, but by those who seek to serve the interests of all or most of the people.

December 22, 2007 6:46 AM  
Blogger Wingo said...

I really appreciated your interview. Your discussion made me wonder if the first revision to the constitution should include a rethinking of what democracy should look like. When "politician" becomes a career, it seems that we all lose our stake in political decisions. We are rarely engaged in our current system, outside our regular trips to the polling booths. Perhaps rediscovering the participatory aspects of democratic decision-making and eliminating career decision-makers would revitalize our society and renew our faith in each other.

December 22, 2007 8:20 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

One of the best, most stimulating conversations, I have seen in a long time...

December 22, 2007 9:49 AM  
Anonymous senglert said...

Mr. Levinson,
An Obama supporter? OK!
I took you for a do-gooder Democrat.
Now about tenure for college professors. Don't you think that archaic practice should be eliminated? It doesn't really fit into today's globalized economy.
Imagine the money that could be saved if American colleges and universities replaced their long-term, overpaid faculty with fresh immigrant scholars who would work for less than half the pay you earn. The savings could be used to lower tuition costs, thereby educating more students.
Once you and your academic colleagues accept the change, you'll fully understand why so many Americans are opposed to "illegal" immigrants and open borders.
Amending the "undemocratic" Constitution is not the only change needed to make the world safe for democracy.

December 22, 2007 11:49 AM  
Anonymous rachel said...

Thank you for addressing the undemocratic aspects of the system of government established by the US Constitution. I am wondering if you are familiar with The Spirit of American Government by J. Allen Smith? He makes some of the same points about the constitution that you do.

December 22, 2007 2:46 PM  
Anonymous Mort said...

I agree with just about everything Professor Levinson said. We, in fact, do not have a democracy for the reasons he has expounded, especially concerning the profoundly undemocratic Electoral College which reduces the concept of one man one vote to an illusion. So, I cannot understand his need to dilute his argument by saying that, although George W. Bush, did not have a majority of the popular vote, neither did Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Richard Nixon and whoever else. The question is not a majority of the vote, which would be nice, but a plurality - in other words, very simply, the MOST VOTES. George W,. Bush had neither the majority or plurality of the votes in 2000 but the others cited by Professor Levinson all had a pluralty.

December 23, 2007 7:17 PM  
Anonymous gaella said...

It's clear that the government cannot reform itself, all opportunities to get election reforms passed, etc, have failed. A constitutional convention would revitalize US democracy though I'd guess that the powers that be wouldn't be in favor of it. How would We the People get such a thing to occur?

I like the idea of term limits for supreme court justices. I've wanted the electoral college dissolved for decades.

Among the difficulties we face as a society is how few citizens participate in the process. There is minimal ownership of the government by We the People, nor is there the necessary investment in being an educated electorate -- made especially difficult in our age of corporate dominated disinformation. Disillusionment is huge and understandable given our situation. What sense do we make of more people demonstrating in our country regarding immigration than for anything in our history and we still have nothing to show for it other than the ineffectual building of a wall?

Thanks to you and Bill Moyers for getting this debate started.


P.S. How about reviewing teacher tenures every 10 years with a strong contingent of students participating? Politics and economic domination of universities by corporate funding is also affecting hiring and tenuring practicies, perhaps student involvement could help ameliorate that.

December 28, 2007 2:34 PM  
Blogger RDeWald said...

I think the notion that the citizens of this country want a democracy deserves some review. What it seems to me that people want is the governmental equivalent of over-protective parents, i.e., they want to believe that their messes will be cleaned up by someone else, that they are always right, always moral, never brutal, never in need of discipline. In short, they want the country that Karl Rove taught George W. Bush to promise them in order to put himself in the position to be appointed President by the Supreme Court.

People who want a democracy would never have stood for the results of the 2000 election no matter who they voted for. A democracy means that one has to be willing to get out from behind their own preferences and aversions and respect the judgment of the people, especially when it disagrees with their own. What we have is a country of petty, adolescent dictators who all want their own kingdom.

I think we need a Constitutional Convention, the notion that the state can't regulate the ownership of lethal weapons is alone reason enough to clarify things. The notion that spending money to influence government is protected by the First Amendment is close behind.

December 29, 2007 12:38 PM  

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