The 20th and 21st centuries have not been good for Americans who long for the founders’ vision of a limited federal government with checks and balances between its three branches.
Those thoughtful leaders of the 18th century understood that power truly does corrupt and that once corrupted, it is incapable of self-imposed cleansing. Indeed, today, who among us believes that Washington can fix Washington?
Author Mark Levin does — sort of. In “The Liberty Amendments” (Threshold Edition, Simon and Schuster, 2013), the ever-passionate constitutional lawyer documents the genius of our founding fathers by exposing the mechanism constructed in 1787 to extricate us from a government grown too large and costing too much. It is brilliant in its simplicity but, as Levin admits, remains untried.
Levin leads us to a little-noticed gem. Article V of the United States Constitution: “The Congress … on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States shall call a convention for proposing Amendments, which … when ratified by Legislatures of three-fourths of the States” would amend the Constitution. There it is. Congress must, not may, but must, respond to a call of two-thirds of the states whose legislatures say it is time to convene and consider the state of federal governance.
And understand the irony of Levin’s proposal. As a popular conservative radio host and tea party favorite, many within his audience will recoil at the very idea of a convention for fear that James Madison’s handiwork would be scrapped for a new constitution. More to the point, they fear what might emerge would be an exercise in liberal, legal modernity so enabling of centralized planning that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg might recommend it to the mobs of Egypt (astonishingly, she recently told Egyptians that the antiquated U.S. Constitution should not be used as a model in reorganizing their country).
But to this crowd, Levin would suggest, take a deep breath. Understand our founders were geniuses not just because they were ahead of their time but because they remain ahead of ours. Article V provides for a convention to amend only, not nullify, our legal foundation.
Most of Levin’s text is a presentation of 10 amendments he believes would act to limit government and provide for greater individual liberty. His proposals address our current legislative deadlock, bloated bureaucracy and economic stagnation. Several are not surprising: term limits for congressmen and Supreme Court justices, a balanced budget amendment and an amendment that would prevent bureaucratic mission creep. Common sense initiatives, most would say.
And therein is the inspiration and potential promise offered by Levin. His “liberty amendments” are overwhelmingly popular among Americans today. All make perfect sense, but few believe they will ever live to see them happen. In this republic “of the people, by the people and for the people” how can it be that what the majority wants is assumed impossible? It is because we have grown cynical learning that our politicians and bureaucrats will never work counter to their own convenience even as we, their constituents carry the burdens they impose.
Levin believes our founders wrote Article V for a day such as this. They recognized that in the most extreme case, a ruthless, tyrannical government would never abdicate its power, and in a lesser form, a soft tyranny exists when bureaucracies grown fat on public largesse refuse to diet.
In arguing that the individual states must initiate the cure through a convention for amendments, Levin is not na´ve as to its likelihood nor, should it occur, that agreement will come easily among three-quarters of the states on any issue. The first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, were approved jointly in 1789. The remaining 17 amendments all occurred individually as a result of the prescribed process that began in the halls of Congress. No convention for amendments has ever occurred in our history.
A good author presents a topic of interest. A great author provides topics that inspire to action. Upon meeting Harriett Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” President Lincoln said: “So you are the little lady that brought us this Great War.”
Stowe’s fiction changed American history because it changed the way Americans viewed their own nation. Levin’s work is not fiction but historically referenced documentation offering a lawyer’s opinion for the consideration. Perhaps, Levin is the author who, one day, will be looked upon as the man who awakened Americans to the constitutional option that led to the revitalization of “this the last, best hope of earth.”