A continuing series of discussions of Mark Levin’s new book,
The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic
(Discussion #3 – The benefits accrue to all)
Today we’ll focus on the first two chapters of The Liberty Amendments.
Before we get into them, however, let us first issue an invitation to our friends on the left to join us in this great effort. As we have detailed in this discussion, the present danger we face in this nation affects us all. Union members are not happy with the job situation. Teachers are frequent victims of violence in our schools, and are blamed for the poor outcomes in them. Poverty is expanding. Race and class divisions have become more distinct and polarizing. America is massively in debt, and weak on the International stage. We showed you the data last week. No matter which side you’re on, you know it’s bad.
We agree! The good news is that we can all work together, men and women of good will on the Left and the Right, to Restore the proper functioning of government, and require our elected officials to listen to the people once again.
Here’s what Restoration (via the Article Five process) means for our friends on the left:
- You get control over your schools again
- Your taxes will be spent closer to home
- Your local representative will be better able to respond to your demands
- Unelected bureaucrats in DC will not determine how your communities will live
- You won’t have to be a millionaire to see the representative that matters (because the ones in Washington will not matter as much)
- Federal representatives will no longer become permanently entrenched, and accumulating power that should be in the hands of the people
It means the same things for all of us! And there are many more ways that Restoration will make it easier for you to have more say in your government. We hope you will join us in this effort, and we encourage you to join in this discussion.
On to the book:
Chapter one of The Liberty Amendments contains Mark Levin’s expressed rationale behind his proposal to achieve Restoration. As many of you know, Levin is a scholar of the writings of the Founders. This also includes many political philosophers and writers of the period who either influenced the Founders or documented the importance of the work done by the Founders. Chapter one is a testament to the fact that these men clearly anticipated the situation we face today.
Referencing first a man born shortly after the Founding—De Tocqueville—a political philosopher who coined the term “soft tyranny,” Levin sets the stage for his description of the trouble we now face. We have covered much of that already in these discussions. But most importantly for we who study these words, Levin’s quotes show that the men alive in the Eighteenth Century had lived under oppression, and knew exactly how government worked to hamper the progress of mankind. What you and I should bring to this reading is the knowledge that the period of the Founders was the Age of Enlightenment; the age of Isaac Newton, Voltaire, Locke, Spinoza, and Montesquieu. By the 1770’s books were available to men of modest means, and most of the Founders were students of Cicero, Tacitus, and Cato, were familiar with the writings of John Locke, and many were learned in several languages. Because of the printing press, ocean-crossing sailing ships, and the existence of the great learning centers in England and the Colonial Colleges, the Founders had over a thousand years of history of governments from whose historians they could draw knowledge.
In other words, they were not stumbling blindly when they drew up the Declaration of Independence. They were not just amazingly lucky to have crafted the Constitution. They knew what they were doing. They knew how a nation founded on individual liberty and self reliance could grow to be a soft tyranny where, as Levin states:
Today Congress operates not as the Framers intended, but in the shadows, where it dreams up its most notorious and oppressive laws, coming into the light only to trumpet the genius and earnestness of its goings-on and to enable members to cast their votes. The people are left lamebrained and dumbfounded about their “representatives” supposed good deeds, which usually take the form of omnibus bills numbering in hundreds if not thousands of pages, and utterly clueless about the effects these laws have on their lives. Of course, that is the point. The public is not to be informed but indoctrinated, manipulated, and misled.
Levin lays out the case—with quotes from Madison, Hamilton and others who were present during the Convention held at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1787—for following the process where a convention of the states, “for proposing amendments,” may be held, and why it has become necessary. This is the second pathway to amendment that was insisted upon by James Madison and George Mason, among others. Though all those present knew a soft tyranny could obtain from the framework they had created, many felt the Congressional path would suffice. Had the states not ceded sovereignty to the federal government by ratifying the Seventeenth Amendment, they might have been correct. Levin points out exactly why they were wrong, and why Mason, especially—the man who made our Bill of Rights a reality—was right. And in that one particular, we were indeed perhaps lucky.
Of course, our people of faith know that luck was merely a small part of it.
I’ll let you discuss Chapter one further, but I suggest you read it aloud to your family after dinner. Use the Internet to pause and explore the men to whom Levin refers. Discuss the meaning of the quotes Levin has chosen. Let yourself become familiar with Article Five’s second process. (To which I also urge you to read the articles by Rob Natelson I referenced last week, as well as others he has written.) At that point will you be ready for discussing the proposed Liberty Amendments themselves.
* * *
Chapter two of The Liberty Amendments is titled: An Amendment to Establish Term Limits for Members of Congress. As all of the following chapters do, this chapter is entirely devoted to the proposed amendment. If you take a bit of time to read the Bill of Rights, you’ll see the simple formula necessary to amend the Constitution. Levin follows suit, keeping the language clear and concise.
Obviously, the idea here is to limit the amount of time anyone can serve in Congress. Levin proposes to so limit any elected Congress member (and here it’s important to remember that the term “Congress” means both the House and Senate) to twelve years.
This is why simple language is critical. The proposed amendment has two sections. Section 1 states:
No person may serve more than twelve years as a member of Congress, whether such service is exclusively in the House or the Senate or combined in both Houses.
This formulation means you get twelve years, period. No matter how you choose to enumerate them, if they add up to twelve, that’s the limit. The second section is simply bookkeeping, to make sure sitting members get to complete their term, even if it means they end up with more than twelve years. So after the following Congressional elections, Section 2 becomes superfluous, and the only thing that matters is the single sentence that is Section 1.
Levin goes on to make his case for this proposed amendment. And as you would expect, he brings many interesting statistics and quotes to bear on the subject. The most glaring of which is the one from Ronald Rotunda pointing out that “There was…more turnover in the Soviet Politburo,” than we have among members of Congress today.
Levin points out the inexorable equation that (TIME in office) = POWER, and reminds us that the Founders were keenly aware of this. The Articles of Confederation included limits on time in office, Jefferson related that “where annual election ends, tyranny begins,” and Levin includes a lengthy quote from Franklin that underscores the fears the Founders had of men who use posts of honor as positions of profit.
The Constitution placed many natural limits on people’s ability to become entrenched in the seats they hold. However, over the two centuries since the Constitution was ratified, Congress has managed to slowly dismantle the things which worked against such entrenchment. Levin describes the dismantling with many stark facts, but you’ll get the idea by reviewing the concept of gerrymandering.
Levin does not neglect human nature. He draws from the Founders’ own words regarding the notions of rotation in service, the arguments against paying members of Congress, and the frank difficulties of life, which was shorter for nearly everyone then. The Founders warned us against letting men become corrupted by time in service.
The arguments are compelling. The problems with these limits are where they run into the will of the people. What do we do if, despite such an amendment, the people in a congressional district manage to write in a candidate they love, and he or she wins, even though ineligible under the proposed rule? Who would have standing to refuse them their seat? Also, Levin makes it clear his proposals are not perfect, and are there to get the process started. He has given us a much needed boost to our work here, but I hope we can all refine his ideas where they may be improved.
Personally, I’d like to let the people decide who shall represent them. I can only come up with one other alternative to limits on time served at a post, and that is a change to the rules of elections, where incumbents must win by greater margins over time. (So, for example, a two-term House Member might need 52% of the vote in order to defeat his opponent in a re-election bid.) I can think of others that are even more clunky to administer than that one. Unlike my alternative, simple term limits represent a final argument that cannot be abrogated.
As we’ve seen, Congress exists to keep itself in power, so abrogation is the natural tendency.
Let us fight it together, and make this Convention of the States happen!
News: Please add your news item on the Article Five Process in the comments. I’ll link to them next week. Do some searching on this. You’ll find an amazing variety of items, including some rather unhinged folks claiming the Convention for Proposing Amendments will be a total runaway (Run Away!).