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Editor's Blog No. 6 - We The People

 . . . whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends (Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness); it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and to institute new government.


The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776


Our government has become “destructive of these ends.” Our principal means of controlling our civil officers (elections and impeachment) have eroded and – in the case of impeachment - become useless. Our country is now considered by Transparency International to have the 13th most corrupt government of the 32 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member nations. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks us as 17th among these 32 countries in terms of “democracy>” We do not need to institute a new government. But we badly need to reform the one we have.    


In order to succeed, a strategy for US governmental reform must persuade ordinary Americans of all political persuasions to work together on this one issue. We ordinary Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, agree that our federal government needs reform. However, we cannot act through our political parties on this issue. This is because our party leaders, quite naturally, are opposed to genuine reform. The Members of Congress, for example, belong to the wealthy ten per cent of the population. Forty-seven percent of them are millionaires. Genuine reform would be contrary to their personal short-term interests. It would set term limits for them, take the money out of federal elections and put teeth in the impeachment provisions. They would be foolish to support genuine reform. On the other hand, an honest and responsive federal government would benefit us non-wealthy Americans and our country as well...


Genuine reform must be multi-partisan


All of us non-wealthy Americans should put aside our political differences and join together for the sole purpose of reforming our federal government. Our strength would lie in our majority of ninety percent. In order to be   successful, however, we must not ask for remedial action from either our federal civil officers or our party leaders. They have   neither the motivation nor the power to bring about genuine reform. We must, instead, rely on those who do possess the needed motivation and power. That is, we must rely on ourselves.


Our political system encourages dishonesty and a lack of dedication


Our civil officers are unresponsive to ordinary people’s needs. Further, they violate the Constitution routinely. This is not their fault. Most of them are fine, honest, well-intentioned people - just as are most of us from the non-wealthy ninety per cent. It would be irrational, however, for them to be honest and dedicated to our needs. Our political system rewards them for unresponsiveness and lawlessness and punishes them for honesty and dedication. As French political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu pointed out centuries ago, the weakness of democracies is that they provide their civil officers with little motivation to put the people's interests ahead of their own. Democracies rely on the love of virtue for its own sake to motivate their civil officers. We humans, unfortunately, do not love virtue for its own sake more than we love power, high living, celebrity status and wealth.


Our civil officers are not responsible for our decline


The dishonesty and unresponsiveness of our political system is the fault of us ordinary American people. The framers of our Constitution relied upon us to both correct their mistakes and alter our Constitution as changing circumstances required. Madison and Hamilton make this point over and over again in federalist paper after federalist paper. Our Declaration of Independence says that we, not our government, have the power to alter our Government. The Constitution itself withholds this power from the federal government. The federalist papers tell us that, in this new and wonderful country, the power to amend our Constitution is wisely withheld from the federal government and given to us, the people.


We have the duty, as well as the power, to alter our Constitution


The framers attempted to write the Constitution so that our civil officers could best meet their own personal needs and desires by devoting themselves to meeting our needs. However, they were inventing a new form of government under incredible pressures and with no knowledge of the cultural, demographic and technological changes about to occur. Naturally (as the Framers themselves anticipated) the result was imperfect. Further, it would need to be altered periodically in order to take demographic, cultural and technological changes into account.  With these considerations in mind, our forefathers conceived our political system’s most radical innovation. This innovation was to give the people, instead of the federal government, the duty of amending the Constitution as needed. This duty is the heart and soul of our democratic system.


There are reasons we have neglected our duty - but no excuses


The Declaration of Independence makes it clear that altering our Constitution is our duty. The federalist papers are explicit both as to our supreme power and as to the federal government's lack of any power to amend the Constitutional. For example, Madison wrote, in Federalist No.49, that whenever it became necessary to "enlarge, diminish or new model" the powers of government, it would be the people’s job - not the government's to do so. In No. 53, he alludes to our “Constitution established by the people and unalterable by the government." But the Framers did not give efficacy (Hamilton's word) to this power of the people. It is true that, if they expected us to exercise this critical power, they should have given us the method and procedures to use in doing so. It is also true, however, that we are not children. We should be able to find our own way through the constitutional maze. Yet for nine generations we have neglected our most critical duty. It is time we began living up to our traditions of independence and initiative.



How we can go about performing this duty.


We, the ninety percent of ordinary Americans, have the motivation, the power and the duty to repair the damage done by over two centuries of neglect. However, our present attempts at reform are futile. Neither electing new civil officers (the Tea Party) nor asking Congress to reform itself (Occupy) is a realistic way to go about reforming our federal government. Constitutional amendments are required. This means that we must bring about a truly representative 2nd constitutional convention. In order to do this our reform strategy must have the following qualities,


First, it must be multi-partisan. Two-thirds of the states must apply for a constitutional convention before Congress can call one. A multi-partisan petitioning campaign in each state is required to make this happen. Should these campaigns persuade two-thirds of our state legislatures to apply for a convention, Congress would have no choice. It would be required by Article V to call one. This has never happened in the past and will not happen now – unless we rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans (and members of other parties) put aside our many valid difference and join together to reform our federal government.


Second, it must accept nothing less than a "money-free" 2nd convention. Otherwise the 2nd convention would simply replicate our money-controlled Congress. It would consist of delegates favoring the wealthy ten percent and would be incapable of genuine reform. We can bring about a "money-free" convention by specifying in our petitions to state legislatures that they apply to Congress for the calling of a convention in which the delegates have been elected without the use of any private funds. There is ample precedent for this precaution in Article VII. This Article required that, before the provisions of the 1787 proposed constitution became effective, they had to be ratified by state conventions (rather than by state legislatures). If our original proposed Constitution could specify its means of ratification, the congressional instruction calling for a 2nd convention can certainly specify the means by which its delegates are to be elected.   


Third, the 2nd convention must be limited. To hold a convention open to the debating of issues on which rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats are divided would be "love's labor lost." The congressional instruction calling for a 2nd convention must limit it to the discussion of matters directly related to government reform (such as term limits, "money-free" federal elections and strengthened impeachment provisions. . .



A first step


It is clear that a coalition of non-governmental organizations is needed. A fifty-state petitioning campaign would require coordination and financial resources. These requirements would have to be met without recourse to the federal government. Given our political and institutional make-up, a coalition of churches, labor unions and other NGO's is indicated. One of our principle NGO's (such as Move On, Public Citizen or Common Cause) could call a 2nd "Annapolis" type meeting[1] of the key NGO’s to plan a reform strategy



Neal Herrick is editor of governmentreform.org. He is also a former sailor, soldier, factory worker, construction worker, railroad worker, reporter, assistant college football coach and visiting professor at the University of Michigan. His most recent book is Reversing America's Decline (2014).



[1] In 1786 Madison, Hamilton and a few others met in Annapolis to discuss boundary problems between Maryland and Virginia. They also proposed that a constitutional convention be held the following year in Philadelphia.

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