CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood recently ran a piece by Georgetown law professor Louis Michael Seidman on one of my favorite topics, the United States Constitution. He advocates giving up on the Constitution, the gist being that we should take the dusty, tattered, old Constitution out behind the barn and put it down, ol’ yeller style. To me, as a priest of the religion of the Constitution (an attorney), this would be like the Archbishop or a Cardinal calling for the Roman Catholic Church to abandon the Holy Bible. Now Sunday Morning is a program I have enjoyed since I was a small child, but this one, opinion section or not, really got under my skin.
Let’s give up on the Constitution? Really? I don’t even know where to begin with where that goes horribly wrong. The Constitution is what separates us from a democracy. Now, you say to yourself, “What could be bad about democracy?” Well, true, direct democracy has killed every society it has run in. Without a mechanism of restraining the various tyrannies (of the majority, of the powerful, of the ill-intentioned, of the well meaning) and putting drag chains on the headlong advance of direct democratic government, democracies burn bright and the then flame out, sometimes spectacularly and sometimes with a whimper.
A Constitution, however, shifts us to a representative republic (or representative democracy). While not perfect, it is a far better balance amongst the various interests than simply letting the population centers dictate everything. Do you really think that if CA, TX, NY and/or FL got together in a true democracy that any of us in the rest of this country would stand a chance of having our voices heard, on any issue at all? We have a House based on population, but a Senate based on statehood. And that Electoral College that is much maligned, it makes sure that, to the best extent we can muster, the voices of all the citizens are heard, whether they are in Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, NYC, Florida Texas or my own Kansas. Without the protections of our Constitutional republic, the tyranny of the majority, actually the tyranny of the population centers, will prevail and those of us in fly over county no longer matter, at all.
In short, the Constitution is what makes us what we are. Whenever any politician, from any party, on any subject, is chaffing under some dusty old Constitutional restraint we need to remember that this is because he is staying off the path of reason and getting into dangerous territory, whether he intends so or not.