Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Better Democracy

From the beginning of our great country there has been an ongoing debate. How should judges (the Supreme Court in particular) interpret the constitution? Should it be as a living constitution (the liberal view), or should it be according to the the framer's original intent (conservative view).

The Cliff Notes version of the supporting arguments are as follows. The living constitution theory says that it was created in accordance with the society norms of that time, but society has changed. Therefore judges must make commensurate changes, ones which will address modern society. The original intent group argue that the constitution has an amendment procedure already available, and it is adequate for needed updates and changes. They also argue that interpreting the constitution as a living document makes the law into a moving target, located wherever the individual whims of justices take it. If true justice for all is to be achieved, the law must be fixed.

There is one important point I think the debate completely misses. The assumption that the the constitution is based on the norms of society is not correct. The constitution is based on human nature. Society changes, but human nature does not, making that great document as valid today as it was the day it was written. The original intent of the framers is the only thing we can look to for guidance.

Liberals often cite the constitution's original voting requirements as an example of their argument that what was written then no longer is applicable. Only male land owners were permitted to vote. Women were entirely prohibited. They say that although that may have been acceptable in society when it was written, it would be unacceptable today.

First, the process proscribed within it allowed the document to be amended, and without the help of any judicial interpretation. The founding fathers believed as I do, that the long term welfare of our nation is best served by an informed, invested electorate. Thus, I question the assumption that the original intent fails at all. Women didn't qualify because they were not regarded as well educated or well informed. Only property owners were thought to have enough of a an investment in the long term welfare of the state to qualify. Is that unreasonable? Would we not be better off today if that principle were applied? It might have been better if the constitution were more clear, saying that only informed citizens with a vested interest can vote, but the idea is a sound one. If women today are regarded as well informed, and non land owners as vested, let them vote. But preserve the integrity of the system and put up some bar over which people must climb before voting. We will all be better off.

Instead it has been determined that anyone should be able to vote. But too many voters have no idea what policy or party serves them best. Far more people know who Paula Abdul is than know the three branches of government. This extension of voting rights to anyone and everyone has led to a huge bloc of people voting only for their immediate gratification, as opposed to what serves the country and themselves in the long run. These voters remind me of farmers who eat the seed corn, and are therefore unable to plant in the Spring.

The popular idea today is that the more people who vote the stronger our democracy will become, helping everyone feel he has a role in decision making. But more important for political stability is the economic welfare of the country. Hitler got just two percent of the vote in the election before the depression, but with economic hard times as a catalyst he won outright. Can you think of any similar situation? Long term economic welfare would be much better served in a system that filtered who can vote.

Under our current system, one group can vote themselves another groups private property, something unlikely to occur if only property owners were voting. In the short run expropriating private property may benefit a few, but in the long run it is ruinous for everyone. The constitutional restrictions on voting (as they were written) should have been replaced, not eliminated. I won't speculate on what criteria should be applied, but real standards need to be set.

Our founding fathers were brilliant. They took the selfishness in human nature and through capitalism and private property harnessed it so as to do the greatest public good for the greatest number of people. We should listen closely to everything they said. After all, this experiment we call the United States of America produced the greatest country in the history of mankind.

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