Ever since Rick Perry entered the presidential race, I have been trying to ascertain whether or not he is a nutter. My process is very scientific. I try to read as much as I can about a candidate (without cutting into important Facebook time), and for every new piece of information that I receive, I put a check in the column marked “Nutter” or the one marked “Okay.” (“Okay” can mean good or bad or irrelevant, just not nuttery. I have a separate checklist for good and bad.) Up until yesterday I had about an equal number of checks in each column for Gov. Perry, which wasn’t a particularly good sign, but my research was still in its nascent phase, so I had to keep going.
Anyway, yesterday I saw this article on the Yahoo!, “Seven ways Rick Perry wants to change the Constitution,” and I thought, “Well, it’s highly unlikely that Rick Perry would be able to change the Constitution in any way, but seven ways seems like an awful lot, even for a possible nutter, so I’d better check this out.” So I clicked on the link and read the article (a blog post, actually), just to make sure the seven ways weren’t just seven ways to change the sixteenth amendment (the one authorizing the federal income tax, which most righties like to talk about abolishing at some point or another–which makes them dreamers, but not necessarily nutters).
Well, it turns out that Rick Perry does want to repeal the sixteenth amendment (okay, good luck with that), but the first item on the list was “Abolish lifetime tenure for federal judges by amending Article III, Section I of the Constitution.” The second item was “Congress should have the power to override Supreme Court decisions with a two-thirds vote.” And I thought, “Alllll righty then, my work here is done. Nutter!”
I know what you’re thinking, “Mad, how can you tell the difference between someone with bad ideas and someone who’s a nutter?” Well, it’s kind of like porn–I can’t really define it, but I know it when I see it. However, I can say that generally, any time people talk about amending the Constitution, my nutter-detector goes on high alert. To be sure, some amendments to the Constitution have been very good. I reckon the majority have been, but that’s because the Constitution has only been amended twenty-seven times in 200+ years; you don’t just go around amending the Constitution willy-nilly.
So when I hear conservatives talking about a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning or outlaw abortion or define marriage as a strictly hetero institution, I lose some confidence in that person’s governing style. Because amending the Constitution is costly, time-consuming, and probably not going to happen after all, and if you think it’s a good idea to try anyway, you might be some kind of nutter. At the very least you are wasting everyone’s time, over something that shouldn’t be necessary in the first place.
The eighteenth amendment, prohibiting the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol, was the work of nutters. As I recall from studying American history, Americans used to consume a lot more alcohol than they do now. Like, tons more. Maybe it was because the drinking water was really bad back then, I don’t know. Regardless, it became a huge societal problem. You can’t really blame people for wanting to Do Something about it. That’s just the way people are. There is some controversy over whether or not Prohibition “worked,” i.e. whether or not it reduced alcohol consumption. That’s sort of neither here nor there, because there were so many other unintended consequences of Prohibition (bad ones) that we actually passed another constitutional amendment a scant 22 years later to repeal the Prohibition amendment, and I think the lesson is pretty clear: you can’t solve all your problems by amending the Constitution.
Of course, the reason conservatives start talking about amending the Constitution is because they’re fed up with “judicial activism.” I use the scare quotes only because “judicial activism” isn’t a term I like to use. I prefer “judicial overreach” or just plain “bad decisions.” But this is Rick Perry’s rationale behind changing the Constitution to reduce the power of the judicial branch, which he believes has overstepped its bounds. To be sure, bad decisions happen, but I’m reluctant to screw with the balance of power our Founding Fathers established. I’m especially reluctant to further politicize the judicial branch, which is certainly what would happen if Gov. Perry had his druthers; unlike him, I’m not convinced the benefit of “accountability” would offset the unintended consequences–and there are bound to be some of those.
I confess that I am not a fan of term limits in the first place, even for the legislative and executive branches. Yes, we have a lot of clowns in Washington who keep getting elected because of the incumbency advantage and because most folks can’t be bothered to learn whether or not their elected officials have done any good lately. But if voters are too lazy to inform themselves about the issues and alternatives or do anything other than fill in the circle next to the name that seems most familiar, that sounds like a personal problem to me. Yes, elections are decided by people who don’t really care. That’s frustrating to those of us who actually do care, but I wouldn’t go changing the system just because citizens are too foolish to do their jobs. There isn’t a system you could design to counteract the foolishness of the electorate.
Our Founding Fathers (I feel so right-wingy when I talk about Our Founding Fathers) weren’t naive about human nature. They had a pretty low opinion of it, actually. And so they devised a system that they thought would best counteract the worst human instincts. It’s worked pretty well for 200+ years. Our government is much more stable than other governments out there, and we’re still the freest country on earth. I don’t think we are that much smarter than the Founding Fathers were. Therefore, I don’t trust the impulse to mess with what they created.
This is not to say that the Constitution is some sort of holy writ that should never be messed with. Personally, as a woman, I enjoy having the right to vote (although I can’t say voting is always a joy). I’m happy we don’t have slavery anymore. Defining the process of presidential succession was a nice touch. I just don’t like cavalier talk about changing the Constitution just because things aren’t going your way lately. That just doesn’t seem like a temperament that is compatible with limited government. In other words, there be nutters.