Sunday, June 03, 2012

I beg to differ

I know that language is evolutionary and usage tends to trump history.  That discourages me for the future, given the pervasiveness of stupid shortening of words induced by email and texting and what not (a friend of mine told me he was "totes jel" over the weekend [totally jealous, I think]; while he was being tongue in cheek, the fact that that is a joke to be made makes me feel like a cranky old man yelling for you to stay off my lawn).  The one that seems to get me at a disproportionately high level compared to everyone else I know is begging the question.

It does not, traditionally, mean the same thing as raising the question.  It is a logical fallacy where an unstated question of dubious validity is assumed to be true as part of the initial premise.  For example, to say that Justin Bieber is better than John Lee Hooker because he has sold more records begs the question that selling records is a valid measure of musical goodness.  And yes, I said records.

One that came up while listening to the Slate Political Gabfest (motto: 50 minutes of pretension every week!) was about "fixing" the constitution in response to a Texas Law Professor's blog at the New York Times.  The basic assertion is that our government isn't very effective and the Constitution of a big part of why, so let's fix the Constitution so that the government can solve our problems; insisting that making ours more like a Parliamentary system would be preferable.

Now, this begs the question that effective government is a positive outcome.  The solutions that we have gotten (especially recently) are not really evidence in favor of this.  The complaint that the Constitution is difficult to amend is regarded as a weakness, and I think it is a strength, particularly given the animosity we see right now.  This is essentially saying, "Because you disagree with the actions I want to take and the rules let you, we need to fix the rules because I'm smarter than you."  It is ironic, too, that we call the people who believe this "liberals" these days.

Political moments like these are precisely the reason that the Constitution should be hard to amend.  What would the fixes look like?  If it's hard to pass as legislation, why should we want that to be institutionalized more permanently?  Remember prohibition?  It was stupid. 

A lot of the discussion centers on the Senate, which is unrepresentative, by design.  This is the only body I think that does need to be reformed.  My fix: repeal the 17th Amendment.  The direct election of senators has supplanted its whole purpose, which, of course, was to make legislation harder to pass.  Everything that government does takes rights or powers away from somebody else.  The Senate was supposed to serve as a backstop for the State Governments against the Federal Government, and now it doesn't.  Now it's just a weird distortion of the House of Representatives, but with a bigger district.  Also, the House districts are too big.  The initial district size was 1 representative for every 30,000 people.  At current population, there would be 10,000 representatives.  Granted, that seems impractical, but at 435, that's way too small.

The biggest thing that irks me, though, is that those who want to strengthen government are driving the discussion so much better than those who are skeptical.  The fact that publications can ask, "How do we 'fix' the Constitution" when it is function as intended without being utterly laughable is confounding.  That we are discussing the fact that government might not be a never-ending source of benefits is, too. 

The position asserted by Slate and Levinson requires a fundamental and dramatic reorganization of what "America" means and I'm just not sure that there's compelling evidence that's necessary, or even preferable if it were.  In that same podcast, Emily Bazelon in particular has claimed that both parties are getting more extreme, but especially the Republicans.  I don't think I can keep your attention any longer and argue with that, but I'll just say that that assertion, like the larger one about the Constitution earlier, requires using a target for the "center" as moving much faster than the public at large has and try to come back to that in a future post.

So, when we are becoming more divided, legislation is getting harder to pass, and politics is as rancorous as we can remember seems like an odd argument to make it easier to make sweeping changes, rather than harder.  I mean, after all, these people bought more Justin Bieber records than John Lee Hooker records. 
And progressives are suggesting we trust them to rewrite our Constitution?  I beg to differ.