Saturday, February 8, 2014

Our Decrepit Constitution: Remedies (Part Two)

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.

International Treaties

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, historically speaking, 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. George W. Bush violated the United Nations Charter by carrying out an aggressive war without any threat to our national interest. Bush appointed an ambassador to the U.N. who believed the U.S. should withdraw from the organization.

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