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  • How Pure Is Your Democracy?

    How would you rewrite the Constitution? The Daily Show writer Kevin Bleyer did that for his latest book Me the People, and he invited readers of Slate to do likewise.

    Several proposals are straight out of an Occupy Wall Street drum circle: the money-is-not-speech amendment, the corporations-are-not-people amendment. Other proposals include direct election of the President and Vice President, a universal voting rights amendments, and eliminating Congress and putting the people in charge.

    It’s not clear how this new Constitution would function or how long it would last. But it is clear from this exercise that we are living in the legacy of the 1912 election.

    As Sidney Milks argues in his First Principles essay, the 1912 contest initiated important changes that redefined the meaning and practice of self-government in the U.S. away from representative institutions and toward a pure democracy.

    This week, June 18–22, is the centennial anniversary of the GOP convention that denied former President Teddy Roosevelt the Republican presidential nomination. In response, TR bolted from the Republican Party to become the leader and presidential candidate of the new Progressive Party. Progressivism had a foothold in the states and with academics, but TR’s creation of the Progressive Party elevated the progressivism to the national scene.

    An array of crusading reformers, from Jane Addams to Herbert Croly, joined the party, which favored a variety of national regulations and social welfare measures—including minimum wage and maximum hours legislation, restraints on financial markets, and national health insurance. While many reformers disagreed about these measures and the critical issue of the national government’s role in regulating the economy and society, one party doctrine unified the disparate strands of progressivism: the rule of the people.

    Pure democracy meant removing the constitutional obstacles that obstructed the direct rule of the people. As Roosevelt put it in his “Confession of Faith”:

    The people themselves must be the ultimate makers of their own Constitution, and where their agents differ in their interpretations of the Constitution the people themselves should be given the chance, after full and deliberate judgment, authoritatively to settle what interpretation it is that their representatives shall thereafter adopt as binding.

    To achieve pure democracy, progressives pushed for several political reforms:

    • The universal use of the direct primary,
    • The ballot initiative, which would allow voters themselves to make laws,
    • The recall of public officials, which would allow voters to remove their representatives from office before their elected term had expired, and
    • Popular referenda on laws that the state courts declared unconstitutional.

    The progressives also favored a strong presidency as a way to give authoritative expression to mass public opinion.

    Roosevelt made the cause of popular rule the centerpiece of his insurgent presidential campaign. Roosevelt’s defense of direct democracy infused his campaign with deep constitutional significance and shaped the election so decisively that other presidential candidates were forced to speak out on the issue as well.

    The Republican candidate, William Howard Taft, had been a member of TR’s cabinet. Taft had supported TR’s pragmatic progressive program within existing constitutional boundaries and with the cooperation of the Republican Party. Pure democracy, however, rejected constitutional boundaries and the party apparatus. Moreover, it was contrary to the Founders’ constitutional design.

    The Founders established a republic where representatives would “refine and enlarge the public views.” Institutional devices such as the separation of powers and federalism allowed representatives to govern competently and fairly. Pure democracy meant eliminating those intermediate institutions that refined, enlarged, and channeled the people’s passions, including political parties, Congress, the states, and the Constitution. Taft would not let this happen. “The real usefulness of the Republican Party,” Taft argued, “consisted in its conservative tendencies to preserve our constitutional system and prevent its serious injury.”

    Woodrow Wilson, an ardent progressive, was the Democratic candidate, and his campaign stump speech was “What Is Progress?” In TR fashion, Wilson attempted to make the presidency the embodiment of popular will and administrative agencies the stewards of the people. But he did not embrace the entire pure democracy program. Wilson was sympathetic to the decentralized state courts and political parties.

    The 1912 election brought progressivism to the forefront of our national politics and challenged voters to think seriously about the Constitution. The pure democracy agenda was a fundamental departure from the decentralized republic that had prevailed since the early part of the 19th century. In a certain very real sense, Roosevelt won the election of 1912, because the causes he championed with extraordinary panache still live on today.

    Posted in Featured, First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    6 Responses to How Pure Is Your Democracy?

    1. KJinAZ says:

      The amendment I would like to see is a minimum IQ of 100 to obtain a vote in any election. This would put an end to the democrat party.

    2. libertarian jerry says:

      First of all the original Constitution has been so twisted,turned and misinterpreted that it bears little resemblance to the original intentions of the Founding Fathers idea of a Republic. What has happened is that the Ten Planks to the Communist Manifesto has been systematically and incrementally substituted for the Constitution. The Income Tax,Central Banking,Fiat Currency,Public Education,Social Security,U.N.membership, etc.etc. are now the laws of the land. With that said, if I was the Grand Poobah and could change or amend the current Constitution I would do the following: For starters, I would abolish the 14th,16th and 17th Amendments. I would enforce the "no direct taxes clause." I would create 2 new Amendments. These would be (1) a complete separation of Education from the State at any level and (2) a separation of Medicine from the State,except in the area of testing for competency and that,only on a State level, I would abolish the Federal Reserve banking cartel and return to Constitutional Lawful money.I would pay off any foreign nations that held U.S. debt but I would repudiate the National Debt to any kind of banking cartels. I would make it unlawful for any government to number,collect information on or have any record keeping for any citizen unless that citizen is a convicted criminal or volunteers the information. The right to privacy shall be added to the Bill of Rights. Any and all Amendments to the Constitution (except the 14th,16th and 17th Amendments) will be kept in the Constitution at the present time. I would abolish most,if not all,legislation that has been enacted over the past 100 years or so that are not mentioned in the Constitution. In the name of brevity,these are only the starters.

    3. and2therepublic says:

      "[D]emocracy will soon degenerate into anarchy, such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man's life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure, and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious wills, and the execrable cruelty of one or a very few."

      John Adams – an essay on Man's Lust for Power – August 29, 1763.

      "Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and mur ders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."

      John Adams – letter to John Taylor – April 15, 1814.

      "[D]emocracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have , in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."

      James Madison – Federalist No. 10 – November 23, 1787.

    4. Andrew says:

      All fine points, but I find amusing that Heritage becomes a TR-like progressive — let the people decide! — when Legislatures lawfully pass bills on, say, gay marriage or drug legalization.

    5. and2therepublic says:

      "[D]emocracy will soon degenerate into anarchy, such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man's life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure, and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious wills, and the execrable cruelty of one or a very few."

      John Adams – An Essay on Man's Lust for Power – August 29, 1763.

    6. Steven A. Sylwester says:

      I have restated Article II, Section 1. [5] and Amendments II, IV, V,VI, and VII, and have also proposed eight new amendments to the U.S. Constitution at: http://steven-a-sylwester.blogspot.com/2012/01/re

      Article II, Section 1. [5] Restatement: No person except (either) a natural born Citizen at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution or a Citizen of the United States shall be eligible to the Office of President; …
      Simplified: No person except a Citizen of the United States shall be eligible to the Office of President; …
      Commentary: http://steven-a-sylwester.blogspot.com/2009/10/al

      Amendment II Restatement: A well-regulated Militia shall not be infringed, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms being necessary to the security of a free State.
      Commentary: http://steven-a-sylwester.blogspot.com/2009/10/se

      My eight proposed amendments are:
      Proposal #1: Supreme Court Gender Equality
      Commentary: http://supreme-court-gender-equality-pac.blogspot
      Proposal #2: Universal Health Care
      Commentary: http://steven-a-sylwester.blogspot.com/2009/12/nahttp://steven-a-sylwester.blogspot.com/2011/11/my
      Proposal #3: Multinational Corporations Designated Foreign Nations
      Proposal #4: One Percent Ownership of Patents and Copyrights
      Commentary for #3 and #4: http://steven-a-sylwester.blogspot.com/2011/12/th
      Proposal #5: Water, Sun, and Underground Natural Resources Management
      Commentary: http://steven-a-sylwester.blogspot.com/2012/01/wa
      Proposal #6: Public Education
      Proposal #7: Certain Rights Regarding Obligations and Freedoms
      Proposal #8: Definitions of Law, Religion, and Judicial Limits

      Excerpts (Sections 1 and 3 from Proposal #8):

      Section. 1.
      The minimum context for all judicial considerations of the Constitution in all proceedings in the supreme and inferior Courts shall be one complete and uninterrupted sentence without abridgment or reduction of any sort. A judicial ruling based on either a single clause or a partial sentence that has been disembodied from its whole and complete sentence in the Constitution shall be categorically unconstitutional unless any right consideration of the minimum context will not alter the ruling. Judicial consideration of an underlying Plain Sentence in the Constitution shall be legitimate if the Plain Sentence reduces punctuation in its reordering of all the clauses in the source sentence as it is stated in the Constitution and if the Plain Sentence cannot be disputed according to the long established Rules of Grammar and Sentence Structure for the English language. An indisputable Plain Sentence shall supersede Original Language in establishing the intent of the Constitution.

      (Section. 2. is six paragraphs long.)

      Section. 3.
      The law in the United States shall not be defined by legal precedents made in Court rulings, but shall in every case be defined by the Congress in acts of legislation. The sole duty and obligation of the Courts shall be to rightly settle disputes within the bounds of existing law using only the language of existing law and any Understanding in effect.

      A Court ruling shall be final and binding unless an appeal to a higher Court overrules a lower Court, in which case the final and binding ruling becomes that of the higher Court. A final and binding ruling permanently settles a case when no more appeals are possible, and any such ruling thereby potentially creates an Understanding that will remain in effect for one thousand days. An Understanding is any clarification of law formed by a judge, a panel of judges, or a jury to justify a ruling in which the existing law was either vague or nonspecific to the needs of the settled dispute. An Understanding shall prevail in all Courts without exception until either the Congress acts or the Understanding expires. The Congress can legislate the Understanding into law according to the Court ruling or in an alteration of its own making, including the legislating of a new law that is entirely contrary to the Understanding, or it can choose to let the Understanding expire, in which case the law reverts back to its existing vague and nonspecific language.

      The Courts, including the Supreme Court, shall judge according to the existing language of the Constitution and its associated laws and according to the Principle of the Constitution, and shall advise the Congress of shortcomings, needs, and inconsistencies in the law through the ruling clarifications that result in Understandings. It is the duty and obligation of the Congress to legislate the laws of the United States.

      Past Supreme Court rulings that have effectively created new law by either establishing or building on legal precedents shall be reduced to Understandings on a going-back-two-years-every-year basis, with each Understanding expiring one thousand days after being reduced from its precedent, such that one hundred years of past precedents shall become Understandings during the next fifty years. That process shall continue unabated until no precedents remain in the law of the United States.

      Legal precedents shall become nothing more than footnotes in the history of United States jurisprudence; they shall have no remaining force of law within them once the transition required by this amendment is done.

      * * *
      Steven A. Sylwester

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