Someone at @Popehat (no idea which one) pointed out that Andrew Burstein at Salon is calling for a new constitutional convention. I’m generally against the idea, because although I can think of a few things I’d like to change, I’d be worried that we’d lose way too many freedoms if we rewrote the Constitution in this fearful day and age. Burstein’s article is an excellent example of what I’m worried about.
To start with, I’ve got to wonder if the author has ever read the Constitution or thought about what the Constitution is for, because he really takes the discussion down into the weeds. A few examples:
“Bring the best teachers to the worst schools, and pay a hefty premium to those teachers. Make a commitment to fixing these schools first. Let them shine on the outside, as a site for community pride. Give them great equipment and smaller classes. Make the learning environment of the poor superior. Take pride in actual democratic commitment. […] While we’re at it, unless they can be seriously monitored, and we mean seriously, let’s move away from the concept of for-profit charter schools, for-profit universities and for-profit prisons. They have already proven themselves unusually subject to private greed and corruption.”
“Start teaching foreign languages in first or second grade.”
“SAT and GRE scores do not measure imagination. Also, reinforce what teachers do by adding counselors and school psychologists to our school systems.”
“Protect Social Security by increasing the Social Security tax rate of those who earn over a certain amount (say, $300,000) in a given year. Close tax loopholes that continue to protect industries that otherwise feel no compulsion to collaborate with others for social betterment: they should not be bullied, just equitably taxed.”
“Instead of rewarding oil and coal interests with government subsidies, accord them the same treatment government has given to Big Tobacco for a whole generation, which has dramatically reduced the percentage of Americans who smoke. Just as no one objects to highway signs that read “Buckle Up,” would it hurt to see warning labels at the gas pump?”
I realize that Andrew Burstein is a college professor, so education must undoubtedly loom large as an issue, but what the hell is he doing talking about SAT and GRE scores in the Constitution? The whole article is really just an exercise in “If I ruled the world…”
That’s not to say Burstein wouldn’t make some Constitution-level changes if he ruled the world. Among those I was able to identify are
- gutting free speech
Let’s take that second one first. He doesn’t want to bring back race-based chattel slavery (so…good for him), but he does want to force young people to work against their will:
Our 18-year-olds are hyperactive online but, for the most part, socially immature. They learn how to party in college, while generally failing to complete reading assignments. The new Constitution would institute a two-year national service commitment, allowing students to obtain college admission at the end of high school–deferred acceptance. They would have the security of a spot waiting for them in college, but would in the meantime take a deliberate part in expansive national service programs.
I don’t know what I hate more, the fact that he wants compulsory national service, or the fact his only justification is that college students are immature and party too much. Because that’s not a reason to steal two years of their lives to work on projects like this:
A math whiz from Vermont can teach high school kids in Zuni, New Mexico. A senior who loves environmental history might work for the Park Service or on an experimental farm. For some, it will be the armed forces. Develop pride, develop useful skills. Energize young citizens–remember, they can vote at 18. Get businesses involved, partnering with government. Teach real-life communication skills, with a dose of empathy. Don’t coddle, but compensate the young men and women for their service. Even those who don’t intend to go to college will profit from such an introduction to a varied, more interesting life.
I have no objection to getting people to teach math or work on an experimental farm, although I’m pretty sure we could get them to do so freely if we just paid them enough. And what exactly will be the process for matching people to their national service jobs? I wonder if Burstein is picturing some wise and kindly government expert poring over Johnny’s class records and carefully picking out a job that will be just right for him. Because that’s the kind of subtle personalized service we all expect from government bureaucrats, right?
I also can’t help wondering about those poor inner-city kids — minorities, most likely — who are stuck in crappy schools and who therefore never get a chance to be math wizards or environmental history geeks. I suppose there’s always the armed forces — which will no doubt be super pleasant to serve in once nobody has a choice — but what about those who don’t qualify? I notice Burstein mentions getting businesses involved. What’s he got in mind? Coal mining? Garment work? Commercial fishing? Or perhaps some nice farming conglomerate could snap up the cheap labor for harvest season. Is picking cotton still labor intensive?
(I suppose that if I had to teach a bunch of snotty college students, I’d fantasize about sending them all off to a couple of years of conscript labor too. On the other hand, I’ll bet Burstein’s teachers felt the same way about him, but a quick glance at his biography doesn’t indicate any military service or the Peace Corps or anything like that. Just fifteen years on Wall Street followed by a job in academia. Perhaps he feels that his university teaching is service enough, unlike the rest of us with our less-exalted jobs.)
As for gutting free speech, that’s because Burstein is really pissed off about the Citizens United ruling:
This is the thing. We all know the solution to our sorest problem. Let’s spell out what everyone’s saying, but voters, en masse, have failed to press for hard enough. It’s all the friggin’ campaign contributions. No more fundraising. Period.
Use tax dollars exclusively to fund national political campaigns. As students of history, the framers of our Constitution understood the classical meaning of the terms “republic” and “democracy.” Individually and collectively, they would have had a single word for Citizens United: CORRUPTION. Institutionalized corruption. Despite its contrived explanation, the 2010 Supreme Court decision is not about free speech; all it endorses is the thug’s motto: “Money talks.”
(Impressive use of ALL CAPS, dude. You almost had me convinced! Next time, try adding exclamation marks!!!)
Does he even know what Citizens United was about? A group of people operating a non-profit corporation made a documentary that was critical of a candidate for public office and the Federal Election Commission got a court to order them not to show it on television or even to advertise it, basically on the grounds that the expense of showing it was equivalent to to donating money to the candidate’s opponents. The Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting them from showing it violated their free speech rights, implicitly concluding that people don’t lose that right just because they happen to be organized as a corporation.
I honestly have no clue why Burstein says “money talks” is the “thug’s motto.” Thugs don’t talk to you, they hurt you. Yet Burstein apparently thinks that it’s evil for corporations to spend money to talk to people. Because that’s all that he and everyone else are upset about: Corporations talking to people.
(I guess he could be arguing that by spending money on behalf of a politician’s election campaign, corporations are essentially bribing politicians, but I have no clue what bribery has to do with thuggery either.)
Remove money from politics and ideas flourish. One hundred percent public funding, and a designated campaign season extending months, not years. It can be done, people. They don’t know it now, but even the politician class will be glad for it. Do you think they live for the Iowa caucuses? Oblige them to spend more time studying and legislating and less time posturing.
You bet your ass the politician class will be happy for it. Challengers and critics won’t be pointing out their faults and criticizing their policies if the incumbent politicians withhold funding. And not only does Burstein want to prevent people from talking about politics immediately before an election (as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act did before Citizens United invalidated it), he also wants to prohibit people from talking about politics at any other time as well.
And unlike the corporate “thugs” he’s so concerned about, the thugs silencing free speech in the name of campaign finance laws won’t just talk to people: They’ll send men with guns to lock them in cages and take all their stuff.
Lest you think I’m making too much of his opposition to Citizens United, he also wants to suppress other kinds of free speech as well:
Make those crass [oil company] ads go away–take the one where the caring female executive of BP Alaska boasts of how the insufficiently regulated corporation responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster loves people and creates jobs and works for America. You shouldn’t be able to put a compassionate face on corporate greed. Let’s get priorities straight: Instead of permitting them to twist facts, make polluters pay for TV ads that aggressively promote a clean-energy economy.
And is there some way to free the airwaves from the pestilential noise generated by those ideologues who shout ignorantly about getting government off their backs?
Yeah, won’t those guys feel stupid for having whined about something as minor as Obamacare when the new government starts taking their children away on their 18th birthday. That will teach them.
I gotta say, there’s more than just a tinge of fascism in all this.
What promise lies in the business of getting ahead at all costs? Or in the unmitigated voyeurism prompted by a mass culture daily saturated with news of mass shootings and manufactured celebrities’ mostly bare bodies? The bizarre and banal loom before our eyes and almost appear to outweigh what matters. […] We should think large.
You know who else thought large? Hitler.
Yeah, I went there. Sorry. The “You know who else…?” meme is just a joke, but this “national greatness” bullshit is not just a right-wing obsession anymore, and it pisses me off. I have grown to despise would-be leaders who belittle the concerns and culture of ordinary people while trying to enlist us in whatever bullshit they believe is more important than our petty selfish desire to enjoy our lives.
Clearly, Burstein is not a genocidal monster. But he does want to enslave millions, and he wants to silence and imprison those who speak out without approval. That makes him some kind of monster.
To contend with those who have been conditioned to fear “big government,” here’s the winning response: Let us profit from good government ideas once they are put into practice. Government performed a masterstroke at the end of World War II with the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944–you know it as the GI Bill–enabling millions of veterans to go to college and better themselves. It’s proof that government can make a positive difference in citizens’ lives.
Perhaps. But while you’re talking about the 1940s, let’s not overlook the 60 million people who never had a chance to better themselves because they died in World War II. That too is a difference made by government.