18 December 2010

Special Comment Post: Nine Points

I tried to post an anonymous comment to the Nine Points of Democratic Principles below (link), but the posting was apparently too large for Blogger to accommodate, so I post it here. Please feel free to add comments to this post.

Anonymous said:

A lot of thought went into your 9 points, but I fear that you started with a false premise. As upset as I am with the state of the Democratic Party, I still have to keep in mind that your point #1 (“Our nation’s government must be genuinely representative of all the people, as the founders intended.”) was never the case. Our “founding fathers” had no intention of making the government representative of all the people, at any time. Witness, for example, the Three-Fifths Compromise worked out during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, as enshrined in found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution. The exact text was: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”)

The concept of generalized equality of representation did not arise until the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment (1868), followed by the Fifteenth Amendment (Race not a bar to voting) in 1870. This was in turn followed by representation of women as equals  with the passage of the 19th Amendment (1920) and the right to vote at age 18 (1971 – not in time for me to vote in the Nixon Humphrey race). Need I mention that poll taxes (ie, represention based on wealth or property) were not officially abolished until the 24th Amendment in 1964?

In terms of the legislature, while the House was set up as vaguely representational of the people (more on this later), the Senate was representative only of the States (which is why each state has 2 senators no matter the size of the population of the state). The Senators were appointed by the state legislatures (See Article I Section 3) until the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913. Even today, the Senate is not strictly representative of the people, as there are still 2 senators per state, no matter what the population of the state might be.

As for the House, strictly speaking it is only slightly more representational than the Senate. It is true that every 10 years the number of representatives is adjusted between the states depending on percentages of population of the entire U.S.; however, every state receives at least 1 representative, even if population would only warrant a fraction of a representative if each representative represented an equal number of citizens. As of today, the citizens of 7 states are over-represented in the House: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. As noted in the preceding paragraph, the citizens of these states are also grossly over represented in the Senate by virtue of the 2 senators per state.

The only “equal representation” that the “founding fathers” conceived of was for adult, white, European, male land owners (ie, men of wealth). If this sounds like the Republican Party today, you can see why conservatives rely so much on the “intent of the founding fathers” for validity and justification. The concept of equal representation that you and I would like to see as the norm is a much later idea in American history, and is hopefully still evolving.

As for paragraphs 2-9, please keep in mind that the Federal government was deliberated kept on the basis of only strictly enumerated powers listed in the Constitution, while all the other powers were reserved to the States or to the people (10th Amendment, 1791). Education, for example, is not one of the strictly enumerated powers of the Federal government – so states are entitled to provide for education or not as they choose. Your manifesto does not distinguish which government should be exercising what powers on behalf of the people, and confusingly reads as if the Feds should take over everything.

My reply:
I appreciate your historical critique. You are no doubt right that it's not really true to say that something like modern progressive ideas were really intended by the framers of the Constitution, and we should avoid making that claim. But the Constitution has, of course, been made to evolve, and I guess what I'm trying to do is to lay out a vision, for which there is no real political representation, for what a New Progressive America (or whatever you might want to call it) would look like.

I'll think about what you've said and maybe make clear that I'm not claiming that the Founders really had in mind an inclusive representative Democracy like what we  on the Patriotic Left (as I like to say) want to see our country become. 

As for the separation of powers points you make, you're right, that I haven't clearly indicated that. It's obviously true that there has been a trend since at least the 14th Amendment for a much greater role for the Federal Government in guaranteeing rights and setting the parameters for what the states should do. I am advocating recognition of a legitimate role for recognition of a Federal right to eduction, health care, etc. Those who will argue, and sue to pursue a theory, that the Constitution reserves these areas to the States will have to be addressed. It's very difficult to amend the constitution, but it may be necessary to try to do that in order to make some of the changes I and many like me believe are needed.

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