Another Constitutional Convention? Perish the Thought…

In mid-2014, I wrote a column for the IBJ in which I strongly disagreed with an effort by Indiana State Senator Long to have Indiana “sign on” to an effort to call a new Constitutional convention. (Unfortunately, Senator Long was successful in his effort to have Indiana do so.)

After I wrote my column, the issue receded from prominence–at least, it disappeared from news coverage. More recently, it has reappeared; we are, apparently, only 5 states short of convening such a convention, and a particularly ominous bit of news has emerged: the money behind this effort comes from ALEC and the Koch brothers, whose motives–to be kind about it– are unlikely to be supportive of the common good.

Here was my original argument:

Periodically, lawmakers impatient to change government policies of which they disapprove will call for a Constitutional Convention.

Fortunately, these efforts have yet to succeed.

Why “fortunately”? Because—like poison gas—system change is only a great weapon until the wind shifts.

Activists clamoring for shortcuts to major change—revolution, a new constitution—always assume that the changes that ultimately emerge will reflect their own preferences and worldviews.

History suggests that’s a naive assumption.

Indiana Senator David Long wants the states to convene a new Constitutional Convention, at which delegates would devise “a framework for reigning in overspending, overtaxing and over-regulating by the federal government and moving toward a less centralized federal government.”

He claims the convention could be limited to consideration of those goals, but even if he is correct (and many constitutional scholars disagree) his “limited” goals are Pandora-box wide.

For example, Wall Street bankers argue that post-recession financial laws are “overregulation;” if polls are to be believed, most taxpayers view the new rules as barely adequate. Who wins?

My definition of “overspending” might be the massive subsidies enjoyed by (very profitable) U.S. oil companies; yours might be Medicare or farm subsidies. Many Americans think we spend too much on the military; others target foreign aid.

“Less centralization” could justify virtually any limitation of federal government authority, from FDA regulation of food and drug quality to laws against discrimination.

But the risk isn’t simply that a Convention could rather easily be hijacked by people who disagree with the conveners about the nature and extent of needed changes. It isn’t even the likely influence of well-heeled special interests. The real danger is in calling together a representative group of Americans and asking them to amend a document that few of them understand.

At the Center for Civic Literacy at IUPUI, we focus on the causes and consequences of what we’ve come to call America’s civic deficit. The data is depressing. Only 36 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government. Only 21% of high school seniors can list two privileges that United States citizens have that noncitizens don’t. Fewer than a quarter of the nation’s 12th graders are proficient in civics. I could go on—and on.

Even bright graduate students come into my classes with little or no knowledge of American history, episodic or intellectual. Most have never heard of the Enlightenment or John Locke. They certainly haven’t read Adam Smith.

A truly depressing percentage of undergraduates can’t explain what a government is, and they have no idea how ours operates. Separation of powers? Checks and balances? The counter-majoritarian purpose of the Bill of Rights? Blank stares.

To his credit, Senator Long is one of the few Indiana legislators who recognize the importance of civics education and who support efforts to remedy the deficit. His efforts in this area have been truly praiseworthy, which is why I find his willingness to turn over the task of rewriting our Constitution to people who don’t understand the one we have so puzzling.

Think about this: Last weekend, at the Indiana Republican convention, Richard Mourdock compared today’s America to Nazi Germany–and got enthusiastic applause.

Do we really want people like Richard Mourdock—or those who cheered his ahistorical and deeply offensive analogy—deciding how the American Constitution should be changed?

Furthermore, the Constitution already provides We the People with a handy remedy for unsatisfactory governance: it’s called elections.

We’re apparently too apathetic to use the tools we have.

I have no reason to revisit my original concerns about such a convention, but events since then have added several items to my list of “oh shit, what if’s.” I can only imagine what sorts of changes the extremely libertarian Koch brothers are hoping to make; add to that the delusions of the anti-journalism “Trumpers” who would undoubtedly participate, the proponents of Pence-style “religious freedom” (a/k/a the privileging of fundamentalist Christian bigotry), and a variety of other ideologues and know-nothings, and the prospects are genuinely terrifying.

Of course, we should remind those who see such a convention as their chance to get rid of all those pesky constitutional provisions that keep them from installing a government more to their liking that there are no guarantees– such a convention might end up with participants who think it’s time to get rid of the Second Amendment and the Electoral College.

If 2018 is a “wave” election–if Democrats, rational Republicans and Independents come out in force to reject Donald Trump and those who have enabled him–such a convention might prove to be an unpleasant surprise to its current enthusiasts.

Either way, holding a Constitutional convention when the U.S. is embroiled in extremely toxic, uninformed and polarized politics is a really, really bad idea.

As I recall, the headline of my IBJ column was “An Idea Whose Time Has Definitely NOT Come.”


  1. I haven’t slept yet. I have a toothache sort of. But the Koch bros and Trump and Bannon are about like a toothache. They never go away. Now, I finally got X-rays and a long lecture about flossing. I have some appointments for my teeth.
    If I could get appointments and even told off for not doing my part in protecting my government, I’d eat humble pie and make appointments to go whale the tar out of the characters. Too much happens too fast. I feel like I’m a sophomore taking graduate classes. I am an activist. I find out the sooner or later there might be a law that activists are classified as terrorists. Quick! Give our assignments and when we meet.

  2. If there ever was a chance for Senator Long, the Koch brothers, Pence and the rest of their ilk who want to permanently damage our country and the protections that we hold so dear, now is the time. They really do have all of the stars aligned in their favor.

    The mere thought of trying to explain to republicans (especially trump voters) what is actually going on and how it will negatively affect their lives seems formidable. I don’t know if I have the time or energy to even try. They are far too vested in their “fake news sources” to probably even listen to someone willing to tell them the real truth.

  3. This blog brought to mind the Electoral College and Gerrymandering; both negative processes which need serious restructuring or total deletion. Considering “Another Constitutional Convention” needs to be tossed into the same incinerator as Trump’s Tweets as being useless.

    “Think about this: Last weekend, at the Indiana Republican convention, Richard Mourdock compared today’s America to Nazi Germany–and got enthusiastic applause.

    Do we really want people like Richard Mourdock—or those who cheered his ahistorical and deeply offensive analogy—deciding how the American Constitution should be changed?”

    I copied and pasted the above two paragraphs to remind readers who Richard Mourdock is…or WAS…briefly the Republican party’s choice to replace Senator Richard Lugar. Mourdock’s idiotic comment, “If a woman gets pregnant from being raped; God must have wanted her to have that baby.”, lost him the election (fortunately) with Indiana’s strong Republican ownership unable to save him.

    Back to Constitutional Convention, Electoral College and Gerrymandering; I sought information regarding “agreement”, “acceptance” and “acceptable” in my dictionary but found so many definitions that, like today’s political differences, got no defining answers. The outcome of the 2016 presidential election was settled by the Electoral College but has not been “accepted” or “agreed upon” nor found “acceptable” by the majority. The same would be held true regarding “Another Constitutional Convention”; how many involved in this action would agree to what we have become as stated by Mourdock, comparing today’s America to Nazi Germany. Unless members of the Democratic party were not allowed to have a voice; this would quickly end any attempts to rewrite the Constitution.

    “As I recall, the headline of my IBJ column was “An Idea Whose Time Has Definitely NOT Come.”

    Sheila’s final comment is one most Americans would “accept”, “agree with” and find “acceptable”. What will we be faced with today from the government duly “appointed” by the faulty Electoral College; a portion of the Constitution which requires change or, preferably deletion, by Congressional and/or SCOTUS action.

    Marge; I, too, have trouble sleeping…eating, concentrating on my daily routine. I am also unable to watch the political confusion and illegal activities – and inactivities – but unable NOT to turn back to MSNBC to see what the hell they are up to now. Just the thoughts of one old high school dropout with a GED who worked inside the Republican Indianapolis city government from 1972 till 1994 where I saw the best and the worst in action.

  4. The Koch brothers are in their eighties, and they have more money than God. Why are they so adamant about changing the nation to suit their cockamamie ideas, when they will not be able to “enjoy” the results for more than a few years? Do they have a “God Complex?”

  5. Wow! I knew if I followed this blog long enough, I would agree with something that the professor wrote. The knowledge and wisdom and deliberative process that created the Constitution 230 years ago could not possibly be matched by any convention appointed by a public election. JoAnne seems to be confused about how the Comstitution is amended. Congress and SCOTUS are not in charge of amending it. (Actually, Congress does get the first vote, but then the states must approve.)

  6. Based on my previous first-hand experience which I have previously shared on this blog, I’ve only found “cowardice” in those who seem to think they have been anointed. They know they’re vulnerable. That’s why they spend so much money trying to protect themselves, much like a “yellow or some other type onion.”

    My suggestion would be to just start peeling away. There’s not much to be afraid of at the core.

  7. It’s interesting that these “so-called” originalists, who carry a copy of the Constitution in their pocket and speak of their undying reverence for that document, want so badly to dismantle it.

  8. If you want to take on the Koch Brothers then the first place you have to start with is their father who was one of the founders of the John Birch Society. The layers of the “fascist onion” start with him, not from his sons. Starting at the right place then allows you to follow-up with a ROOT CAUSE ANALYSIS of the Koch Brothers.

  9. Both the Koch Brothers and also Steve Bannon operate like they are in control of the core. They aren’t. The core goes back to at least 1935 with the attempted fascist coup by the Duponts and according to the BBC also the Bush family which was exposed early on by General Smedley Butler through his testimony at a special hearing in the House of Representatives.

    Thus, their backside is unprotected. Anyone disagree?

  10. Betty; you incorrectly corrected my usage of these terms a few months ago. Then accepted my usage of “reign” rather than “rein” as being tongue-in-cheek. Please research the definition of both terms and you will see that Sheila is correct in her usage today and I was correct in the past.

  11. The above should have read: “It Can’t Happen Here” not “It Can Happen Here.” The author of “It Can’t Happen Here” was Sinclair Lewis.

  12. Years ago when the constitutional convention idea first spread, some TV program – I think it was “60 Minutes” did man-in-the-street interviews on what changes the convention should make. To my amazement, several people thought freedom of speech should not include speech on sentiments with which they disagreed. To show this was not anecdotal, the program showed a national poll which echoed the sentiments of those on the street. A majority of Americans did NOT support freedom of speech to express other than their own views. It was stunning and very scary.

    No matter how narrowly a legislature words the instructions to a constitutional convention, the convention could soon go into all sorts of areas and find some explanation of why other changes are somehow linked to their charge.

    David Long is a lawyer. I’m guessing a constitutional convention might also eliminate the rights to due process, right to legal counsel, the right to confront one’s accusers. and all sorts of other rights that keep lawyers employed. This is playing with fire. He should know better.

  13. Then there needs to be a better effort to encourage change in the constitution. These times have changed so much, but no changes in the constitution in 45 years.
    I’d like to see:
    1. Passage of the equal rights amendment for women.
    2. Term limits on.Congress and the Supreme Court.
    3. Elimination of the Electoral College, and instead, election by popular vote.
    Our government moves too slow, and change in the Constitution is too cumbersome for the 21st century.
    These changes should at least be discussed and debated. Just curious, What would you change if you could?

  14. Betty,

    I’m on your side on this one. The correct word is “rein” not “reign” unless my eyes are deceiving me as I look at my dictionary.

    Although Sheila is near infallible, she is not God. She is capable of making a mistake.

  15. “Indiana Senator David Long wants the states to convene a new Constitutional Convention, at which delegates would devise “a framework for reigning in overspending, overtaxing and over-regulating by the federal government and moving toward a less centralized federal government.”

    Change the term “reigning in” to “ruling” or “controlling” and you find a different meaning than to “rein in”. Only Sheila can tell us which she means in this instance.

  16. We need a constitutional convention like we need another hole in the head. With the likes of Bannon and Miller and a clueless Trump led by superrich libertarian nihilists like Mercer and the Koch Brothers in covert if not open control of the proceedings, we can forget about the mere loss of our democracy; rather we should be concerned with our post-convention descent into some version of the fascist state such as Hitler put together with the capitalist state in the 1930s as we make our final descent into America 476 A.D. when, at a yet unknown date and like the final sacking of Rome, the noble experiment of a Madisonian America ends – and with a whimper.

    We are already headed for the dustbin of history with the present trajectory of events unless reversed which include fascist advisers to the president, one of whom openly admits that he is a Lenin-lover and who wants to “deconstruct the administrative state” in favor of some ill-defined “New World,” aka known as the end of America as we know it. If people such as this (or their bought toadies) are put in charge of writing a new constitution due to money and political leverage, they will have found a means of shortcutting their way into “deconstruction of the administrative state” and various and sundry legal and regulatory constraints on their money-making greed while turning America into an ATM machine in some sort of medieval atmosphere where the serfs serve their masters in the castle.

    When performing such a delicate operation as altering the organic law of the land which defines how government is to operate, the rights and privileges and immunities of its citizens etc., we need a scalpel and not a machete, and I have no faith that those who would be in charge of such surgery would be looking out for anything but their post-convention bottom lines as the corprate coup of America becomes a fait accompli even if only for a while before the whole edifice of America comes crashing down. For these reasons and many more I could enumerate but for time and space, I vote no on having a constitutional convention.

  17. I suspect the real reason for any Constitutional Convention is to repeal the 17th amendment. They will list a lot of points of conversation and some other interesting topics but this is the true goal or target.

  18. I’d love to see “a framework for reigning in overspending, overtaxing and over-regulating by the federal government and moving toward a less centralized federal government.” defined and researched.

    What is the evidence that there is anything about it that’s accurate?

    It’s a meme, a whine, folklore.

    Before any actions are taken supported by this myth someone needs to defend it.

  19. The debate about “reining” or “reigning” is not mine to resolve; as you will all note, there were quotes around that sentence. It was taken from a contemporaneous statement issued by Senator Long.

  20. Marv, what a mean spirited, unnecessary comment you made to Betty regarding Sheila’s word usage. You are not the “god” of this blog. Irvin BAA

  21. TLentych:
    Give us some background on your hypothesis that the Kochs,, are out to do away with the popular election of U.S. Senators.

  22. Irvin,

    I apologize, I wasn’t aware that there was a “god” of this blog. As you can see, Sheila doesn’t feel she is “god.” You must be looking for one. Good luck!

  23. It is clear that our current government is composed of partisans of both parties whose sole purpose is to remain in power. That is what is driving the proposed Constitutional convention. If there were any interest in either party in representing the best interests of the many, our government would be functional.

  24. Marv, I would agree with your comment @ 9:05. The Coup attempt was probably too overt to succeed back in the 1930’s. The book The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government by David Talbot out lines the long game that was played out culminating with Ike installing John Foster Dulles as his SOS and Allen Dulles as Head of the CIA. As Smedley Butler outlined back in the 1930’s there was convergence of Corporatism that was expressed overseas by our military. This quote of Butler’s summarizes it well: “The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag”.

    The Koch Bros have like wise played the long game. If you think of it in terms of football, the Koch’s were playing ball control – three yards and a cloud of dust (to obscure their real intentions – eliminating any controls on profits). The fatal weakness of our system is campaign contributions and lobbying by the moneyed interests. The Koch’s knew this and can use front organizations like ALEC to carry and spread their ideology far and wide. Given the greed for money and power it is not a difficult task to find politicians to carry the Koch Water. It was certainly not an over night process.

    A clever piece is the vilification of Federal, State or Local Governments that may be a threat to their Laissez-faire Model. They have managed also to connect with the Bible Thumping Pence Wing, the issue here is the necessary subservience of the Government to Theology. You can add in the NRA.

  25. In our Government, the Senate has a lot of ability to control things regardless of the party of the president. Republican strategists have long theorized that it is a lot easier to get a majority of states to have Republican governors. Therefore, turning back the clock a 100 years and letting those Governors appoint senators is a backdoor way to control the country for decades.

  26. Sheila, I understood that the quote was not from you but the thinking from that belief is at the root of much of the mischief going on and nobody even questions the basis anymore.

    I’d love to hear some rationale that it has some truth behind it. Until then I suspect that the rationale behind it is oligarchy.

  27. David F.:

    I suspect what I mentioned would be one of the key issues for those that want to restore Federalism in the Constitution. It was a minor theory until a decade ago when Rs started winning statehouses and governorships. I think there are only 16 Governors that are Democrats. Assuming this correlates with state houses somewhat, the senate would have well under 40 Democrats in it.

  28. I think that we suffer from the population move out of the middle to the coasts. When a Presidential candidate can win by 3M votes and lose the election obviously “one man one vote” has been seriously compromised. The middle of the country feels that it should be running the whole country based on what’s best for them. That’s not democracy. That’s power. Power is what Bannon promises to them with Trump/Pence bobble heads behind him.

  29. Sheila, I see what you are saying about ‘reign in’ and ‘rein in’. You were quoting Sen. Long, who actually misused the word. He’s the one who should have used ‘rein in’ — which is correct. Slipping in a [sic] following ‘reign’ would have let me know that you acknowledge the misspelling or misuse. It’s over and done now. We can give that point of grammar a much-needed rest. You’re tops in my book!

    Thanks, Marv! You are one of my heroes! You and Sheila know your ‘reign’ (which DT is trying to do) from ‘rein’ (which is a device to control a horse). Sen. Long and some here just didn’t know which to use in that instance.

    DT assumes he is reigning over America, and he should be reined in quickly! Can we agree on that?

    Moving right along here….

  30. Symbolism doesn’t work if not done right. I meant fauxknee not gauxknee. My bad.

  31. OK, Betty; on this one; mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa. Being caught in the Trump time warp of what he and his administration is doing to us today caused me to lose sight, and reading comprehension, regarding Long’s erroneous comments. His statement should have read “rein”; I also remember your correction of my usage of “reign” when that was exactly what I meant and was, in that instance, correct usage, not tongue-in-cheek. So; I am over sensitive, let the flogging begin.

    Irvin; your comments are correct, on target and need no explanation.

    We are all suffering, each in our own hell and battling our personal daemons, with the current administration feeding the egos of the entire Trump family now in their attempts to become a dynasty and the spectre of Russian domination hovering over all of us. Their agenda is to “reign” over us and is supported by the GOP, “The Donald’s” appointees of White Nationalist 1%ers, their plans to overspend for personal gain, overtax American citizens also for personal gain, over-regulating our health options, birth control, sex lives and religious preferences cannot legally be met by our current Constitution. This ties in with Long’s expressed need for “Another Constitutional Convention” to privatize the entire United States government. The games have begun!

  32. Simple: Attribute the REIN v REIGN controversy to Spellcheck’s typically frequent inability to decide what was intended

  33. Nothing personal, just to keep the record accurate:

    From Irvin @10:48 A.M.:

    “Marv, what a mean spirited, unnecessary comment you made to Betty regarding Sheila’s word usage. You are not the “god” of this blog. Irvin BAA.”

    From Marv @11:01 A.M.:


    I apologize, I wasn’t aware that there was a “god” of this blog. As you can see, Sheila doesn’t feel she is “god.” You must be looking for one. Good luck!

    From Irvin @1:14 P.M.:

    Kramer, you are the one who brought up god. Irvin

    I must be having problems with my eyesight.

  34. Marv; check your 9:56 a.m. post today for the reference you didn’t see.

    Again; mea culpa regarding my starting the “reign” vs. “rein” comments although I don’t believe it is Betty’s place to correct people as she did saying Sheila should have included (sic) in the quote.

    Let’s move on and find a way to RAIN on Trump’s parade by “reining in” his “reign”!

  35. Parish the thought (theo..) is more like it for Indiana’s 92 Counties worth of already inhabited properties by 1716! Hoosiers get only residential rights for any kind of office work at all, even the use of a Notary Republic’s time case by case, office file by office file, and each piece of equipment that guards turn off and on, or union members do. And each citizen has to leave the premises and RETURN to his or her OFFICIAL BUSINESS billing address for Vectren, Frontier-AT&T-GTE-Bell-Sprint-Telecom… whatever your phone line may be. Your [Title] P&L,REMC, Sanitary District pipes, gas pipes, buried lines through your entire system.

    Six days a week, a federally-clad inspector of the site and contents, checks the conditions where you leave your signature in open view as RETURNS address

    Talking about who will drive a car for an overnight business trip to D.C. for Mike Pence and two Senators, nine representatives, just makes Indiana prperty owners twelve short of tax receipts here for labor sales.

  36. Sorry off-topic: Did you see Pence’s smirk as he cast the final vote to defund Planned Parenthood earlier? Why do I want to slap the Sh*t out of him every time I see that smirk? Probably because I know he did something so awful, so outrageous that only slapping the Sh*t of out of him will take that smirk away. Why does he hate family planning? That goes against his religion – controlling what is perfectly normal for God’s way of controlling populations. You know those women that have miscarriages every day in this world and can’t stop it even if it’s a wanted child? Jesus that man makes me so angry. I think we need another women’s march on DC to remind these MFers who is the boss of our bodies and it’s nobody in DC.

  37. Ah, those who long for a weak Federal government. I guess it is because they miss the success of The Articles of Confederation. 8)>

    Peggy Hannon – I think I saw the pocket Constitutions of one of those “so-called” originalists. It was labeled “simplified and improved”. I think it began:
    “We the people of the United Christian States, in order for form a more perfect Union of laissez-faire and White Christian supremacy for the Proper people….”
    The Second Amendment was also missing a few words from the beginning — at least when I compare it to what I learned in school — or the pocket constitution (unabridged) that the ACLU was kind enough to provide.

    Dave Robbins – I agree with two of your ideas, but I think term limits is one of those that Mencken was talking about when he said that for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong. Term limits is the ability of some billionaire to tell me that I cannot choose my own representatives in government. If you really look at the history of this movement, it was led by people who wanted to get rid of a powerful California Assemblyman (Willie Brown) who was loved by his constituents. They thought “how can we get rid of someone else’s Assemblyman when they love him? Ah, term limits.”

    I think that the Reactionaries have decided that they now have the ability to move full steam ahead on voter suppression and should rewrite the Constitution while they still can. This is very scary.

    What nobody seems to talk about is that political power, like nature, abhors a vacuum. When you weaken the Federal government and you play the states against each other, that vacuum will be filled by the rich and their artificial siblings, the multinational corporations.

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