Sunday, May 12, 2013

Our Decrepit Constitution: Remedies (Part Two)

6. Give the President More Domestic Power

The Founders persuaded the colonists to support the revolution by blaming a long list of problems on the King of England. They included this list in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration also served—pehaps primarily—as a notice to the countries of Europe that the colonies wanted a new country, not reconciliation with the King. The colonists fought against the King and were not likely to accept a new monarch in his place.

The Articles of Confederation lacked a strong executive authority, which was seen as a major weakness. So the new Constitution had to describe a middle road. The office of the Presidency was a compromise between the power of a monarch and the limited authority of an administrator appointed by the Congress.

The President at first glance appears impressive. But the President does not propose a budget; only the House of Representatives can introduce spending measures. The President can appoint his cabinet, but they must be approved by the Senate. The President can negotiate and sign treaties with foreign nations, but the Senate must approve them before they go into effect. Likewise, the President appoints judges, but the Senate approves them.

This situation has lasted for two hundred years. At the beginning, when there was mutual respect between Congress and President, the system worked fairly well. As time went by, it worked less and less well. Today, Congress sees its approval as conditional on concessions from the executive branch, or simply as a way to attack the President.

It is absolutely impossible to imagine a corporation operating successfully under similar restrictions. The CEO appoints subordinate executives without any interference from the Board of Directors. The CEO proposes plans for the Board to approve, but once the plan is agreed upon, the CEO may implement the plan in any manner he or she sees fit. The President should have similar powers.

In line with their limited powers under the new system, the Senate may have veto power over presidential appointments, but only for 60 days. After that waiting period, the appointment becomes official.

7. Impeachment should be abolished

When it came time to establish procedures for removing a President from office, the Framers adopted a complex set of rules for impeachment, modeled after the British Parliament's impeachment procedures. In recent years, other procedures have been substituted for impeachment. The House or Senate may expel a member without any complex, quasi-judicial process. There is no reason to continue using this creaky, 18th century artifact, except that it can be used to completely stymie the political program of a president, as happened in President Clinton's second term. That alone is a reason to abandon the process, not to preserve it.

The last impeachment proceedings held in the Congress, against William Clinton, were entirely political in nature. The Republican House indicted Clinton with only five democratic representatives voting to impeach. The Republican Senate voted to convict Clinton with none of the democratic senators joining the Republicans.

The impreachment of President Clinton was a direct result of a Supreme Court ruling that Paula Jones could bring a charge against him in a civil court because there was little likelihood that he would be hindered in his duties as president while answering the civil suit (Clinton v. Jones, 1997). The Supreme Court was unanimous in this decision and they were completely wrong. Clinton spent much of the rest of his term as president embroiled in the Paula Jones case and the impreachment that followed.

After the National Initiative Amendment is passed, the Constitution may substitute a much simpler procedure involving a recall election. The House may vote for a recall by a two-thirds majority to place the recall on a special election ballot. The election must be held within 30 days to avoid any undue delay. If the President loses the recall election, he is immediately removed from office and the Vice President assumes his duties.

8. Sign International Treaties and Remove Exceptions

American Exceptionalism is a theory that regards the U.S. as a special nation. The idea has become part of conservative dogma since the 1980s. Ronald Reagan introduced the concept, if not the name, in a speech delivered to the first Conservative Political Action Committee. Reagan claimed he had a mystical revelation that America was part of a divine plan that involved men who believed in freedom and had a special kind of courage. 

Reagan backed up his mystical belief in that speech with a number of examples drawn from history, particularly the history of the founding fathers. Most of his examples were entirely false, but Reagan connected with the conservative movement with his folksy charm and his Hollywood-inflected view of the world and world history. 

Since the 1980s, the U.S. has withdrawn more and more from the family of nations. It has failed to sign treaties that offered cooperation on war and peace, the climate crisis, and the law of the sea. While President George H. W. Bush conducted an attack on Iraq with a broad coalition of nations under the auspices of the United Nations, his son rejected the advice of the U.N., instead attacking Iraq with a small coalition of U.S. allies. This action violated the United Nations Charter by carrying out an aggressive war that did not respond to a threat against our nation. 

Bush appointed an ambassador to the U.N. who stated that there was no United Nations, that the U.S. was the only real power in the world and that sometimes the U.S. could persuade other countries to follow its lead. This is an expression of American exceptionalism that few countries in the world could accept.

As a result of this quasi-religious belief in American exceptionalism,
the U.S. Senate has repeatedly failed to ratify treaties intended to increase cooperation between the countries of the world. Instead of leading the rest of the world, the U.S. has pursued its own interests in despite of any other country's opinions.

The Supreme Court has fallen in line with this belief. Its conservative members refuse to consider any court rulings from outside the U.S. as persuasive. This position is insulting to jurists in other countries, especially those who have been working for world peace and cooperation. Rulings of the Supreme Court have also reduced the reach of the Alien Tort Statute, further eroding any possibility of legal remedies for victims of injustice overseas.

We the people must curtail the power of the Senate to block implementation of treaties which the executive branch has negotiated and agreed to. These treaties could be approved by initiative and referendum, but that process is time-consuming and unnecessary. The Senate should have the power to block treaties for one year only. After one year, if the Senate hasn't approved a treaty, it should go into effect automatically.

9. Incorporate the International Declaration of the Rights of Man into our Constitution

The U.S. helped form the United Nations after World War II. We were then the world leaders calling other nations to move toward a peaceful world. In recent years, due in part to the theory of American Exceptionalism, we have moved away from a vision of the world which was ours. We the People should reclaim this vision.

The Framers believed that the Bill of Rights guaranteed all the rights that government should be concerned with. Their vision of the world did not extend farther than that. At that moment in time, the Bill of Rights was a laudable achievement. But we no longer stand at that moment in time.

Americans believed in 1945 that they possessed all the virtues in the world, since their armies had just defeated the alliance that embodied all the evils in the world. Sixty years later, we know better. We have seen our own country commit unspeakable crimes, bomb defenseless civilian populations, torture captives, imprison captured enemy soldiers indefinitely without trial. We can have only two reactions to these crimes: We can embrace a theory that defines them as virtues, since the country that committed them is ordained by God to be the savior of the world; or we can atone for our errors by becoming the world leader for peace and prosperity that we once were and can be again.

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