Saturday, March 29, 2008

Turning Intellectual Discourse into Action?

So as college students, we're supposed to be sitting on the grass with a hookah pondering political philosophers. Things are a bit different at GW: the hookahs may look too sketchy for the security clearance half the people expect they will need, and the 20 hour internships seriously cut into the grass laying time.

But occasionally, we do need some intellectual discourse.

This weekend, the bi-annual honors program symposium discussed "Our Undemocratic Constitution," based on the book by Sanford Levinson, one of the leading scholars in constitutional law. The question Levinson posed both in his book and to symposium participants was whether it is time to hold a new Constitutional Convention and ultimately adopt a new Constitution. A more detailed summary of the book can be found on Levinson's blog, but in short, Levinson believes that parts of the Constitution need to be reexamined, especially presidential veto power, life tenure of the Supreme Court justices, the elapsed time between Election Day and Inauguration Day, the equal distribution of votes in the Senate, and most importantly, the Electoral College. Since the amendment process in the Constitution makes it almost impossible to fix these structural problems, perhaps it is time for a new one. In its own words,
Our Undemocratic Constitution boldly challenges the American people to undertake a long overdue public discussion on how they might best reform this most hallowed document and construct a constitution adequate to our democratic values.
We debated the ideas, but ultimately, this is not a school where students have patience for the theoretical. We decided that it's useless to talk about a Constitutional Convention. However, we were convinced that the Constitution is broken, and we wanted to hear how to fix it.

We got some encouragement on one specific issue from another panelist, Jamin Raskin, who is a Maryland State Senator. People are getting frustrated with the Electoral College, so some states are trying to make the system irrelevant from the state level. Maryland is currently working on an amendment to its own Constitution that would give its electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. NJ and IL have already passed similar measures.

Lesson of the day: don't rule out state level politics for a course of action even on federal issues. If you're from Maryland, contact your local representatives and let them know what you think of this change in vote distribution. If youre not from Maryland, look up your own state representatives and perhaps show support for similar measures.

Ultimately, everyone complains that it is up to the public to demand action, but the public is apathetic. Well, we're here getting the ideas, so perhaps it is up to us to start the action.

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