My plan when I sat down to think about my column this week was to offer suggestions to the two major political parties on how to improve their image. My conclusion: "You both suck in your own unique way. Stop that."
Well, my second plan is a bit more radical, and I hope you will hear me out. I am going to suggest four amendments to the Constitution that I believe should be made. These are going to be suggested in the order of how likely their passing actually would be; the final suggestion will seem strange, but that's because I am only partially sure of what it would mean. I don't really know how else to explain myself, so I am just going to start.
Amendment 28: Define "War." This might seem a bit strange, but its hard for me to wonder how the War Powers Resolution (at least in theory) hasn't been made an amendment -- and that there was some ambiguity in the requirements for an official declaration of war until an appeals court decided that the words "declaration of war" don't have to be said. The real implication of this was that war could be declared in a far more politically advantageous manner than it is currently. Here's my general outline: Any commitment of more than 10,000 troops, 250 vehicles or military apparatus, manned or unmanned, and any expenditure over $10 million involving an invasion into a recognized, sovereign nation would be considered an act of war which would require Congress to pass an official declaration of war against said nation, and would require the term "declaration of war" as well as a two-thirds majority to pass through both chambers of Congress.
Amendment 29: Repeal the 17th Amendment. I was taught in school the 17th amendment was a good thing, since it made the Senate beholden to the will of the people. Which is exactly why this amendment needs to go away. The Senate was meant specifically as a body NOT elected by the people and instead protected from them. The Senate was meant to be protected, first by its removal from the general populace, and second by its exceedingly long terms of office. For all the talk about how involved corporations and the über wealthy are in the government... well, removing at least one half of one branch of government from the race for election funding might be a good step. Is this a perfect solution? Of course not. Good, old-fashioned corruption would still be a problem. It's hard to see how doing this could be worse.
Amendment 30. Define "executive privilege. " This is one of those newfangled concepts which are only sort of constructional (in that these words don't occur in the Constitution). The main reason I would want this passed is to make it clear just whom this "privilege" protects (Karl Rove and Eric Holder?) and what kind of records and/or acts are protected by this "privilege," and how long these records and/or acts can be protected. The danger here is that any amendment like this could be written too loosely or let too many people under the president's umbrella. The idea here would be to make government more transparent.
Amendment 31: Limit the size of bills passable by Congress. In this amendment, omnibus bills would now be chopped up into much smaller bills. My first thought is that bills should be limited to 100 words, and increased to 500 words for bills involving a certain amount of funding. All bills could be passed en masse, with the limit of 100 bills per passage. However, these bills would be considered individual laws and could be repealed as such. Also, there would be a provision requiring the use of plain and simple language. The reason why I don't know if this could pass is that I don't think any politician would champion this proposal.
As you see, my main interest is to require a more honest government. I would prefer it if politicians were forced to "declare war" instead of "authorizing action". I would really like a government where protections were used to hinder obfuscation instead of as a way out for people who make mistakes. I would also like it if laws were made to be more easily accessible. I would also like to keep at least a small portion of government from thinking about election funds. Of course, these may be impossible, but I can't help but think I couldn't hurt to try.
---- Greg Bearringer is a graduate student in Medieval History. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.