Is the Constitution to Blame for D.C. Gridlock?

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The Constitution of the United States. (Mike Flippo/Shutterstock)

Along with Congress's productivity, Americans' trust in government has bottomed out.

According to the Pew Research Center, just 19 percent of Americans trust the federal government to do what's right just about always or most of the time. Back in 1958, when Pew started this survey, a great majority—73 percent of Americans—had that level of trust in the Eisenhower Administration and Congress at the time.

A lot has changed since Ike was in office. Jeffrey Toobin, attorney and staff writer for The New Yorker, writes persuasively in this week's magazine that the Constitution may be to blame. 

The American Constitution is the world's oldest still in use, but, as Toobin notes, even Thomas Jefferson believed that all constitutions should expire after 19 years at most. 

Toobin examines the partisan gridlock in Washington, discusses liberal and conservative critiques of the Constitution, and explores why our founding document may still result in the world's best government.

Guests:

Jeffrey Toobin

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger

Editors:

T.J. Raphael

Comments [5]

Sean Dodd from San Francisco Bay Area

It has become far too fashionable ---if not intellectually lazy and dishonest--- to label our most hallowed institutions as being broken, when in truth they are merely under attack by strident minorities who seek to achieve through slander and innuendo what they cannot prove with facts. The Constitution, while far from perfect, has stood this nation well for over two centuries and still serves today as a model for representative democracy the world over. To say that the Constitution is broken is to claim that the Enlightenment has failed. A more accurate assessment of our current difficulties of self-governance would recognize that what is broken is the common people's lack of self-representation in a government that has been entirely hijacked by two corporate parties that do the bidding of elite interests, aided by a judiciary that rubber stamps such corruption. The constitutional crisis is evident in the people's inability to enact a single amendment to the Constitution in the last 40 years. This is because the common people can no longer have their voices heard by their elected representatives. Only monied interests make the laws. If the Constitution is broken, it is only in the way that a mirror is broken: it was a clear and diaphanous thing until someone or something came along and broke it, and now we see the breakage in ourselves every time we cast our eyes upon it.

Dec. 03 2013 08:56 PM
J.R. from Portland, Oregon

I'll start by saying I haven't yet read Toobin's article, only heard him here. But does it really make sense to think that our currently deeply divided electorate and political class is going to come together and create something better then the Constitution we already have? They can't agree on a simple budget, let alone a new Constitution.

I understand the current Constitution came about when the United States was also deeply divided, but it did not have 200+ years of history and law behind it at that point.

Every system has it's flaws, and every few years someone starts talking about the flaws in the Constitution. I'm glad we have a Constitution which is difficult to change, making it hard for the "emergency" of the moment to overwhelm us.

If there is ever a time to "fix" the Constitution, it's certainly not when we are so deeply divided.

Dec. 03 2013 01:09 PM
J.R. from Portland, Oregon

I'll start by saying I haven't yet read Toobin's article, only heard him here. But does it really make sense to think that our currently deeply divided electorate and political class is going to come together and create something better then the Constitution we already have? They can't agree on a simple budget, let alone a new Constitution.

I understand the current Constitution came about when the United States was also deeply divided, but it did not have 200+ years of history and law behind it at that point.

Every system has it's flaws, and every few years someone starts talking about the flaws in the Constitution. I'm glad we have a Constitution which is difficult to change, making it hard for the "emergency" of the moment to overwhelm us.

If there is ever a time to "fix" the Constitution, it's certainly not when we are so deeply divided.

Dec. 03 2013 01:05 PM
Nick_A from NY

Jeffrey Toobin doesn't undersand that it is he who doesn't deserve what the Constitution offers.

“Humanism was not wrong in thinking that truth, beauty, liberty, and equality are of infinite value, but in thinking that man can get them for himself without grace.” ~ Simone Weil

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” John Adams

The typical secular progressive mindset Toobin furthers is incapable of appreciating what makes freedom possible. They need to reflect statist slavery and be told what to think and do by a central government. For their philosophy the Constitution is outdated. For those appreciating freedom and what is required to sustain it, the Constitution is priceless.

Dec. 03 2013 12:02 PM
listener

Start by rewriting the Presidential and Congressional oaths of office or is that too honest and transparent for progressive Constitutional reformers?

If the public and the states don't get behind Constitutional changes, just ignore it and let a judicial and bureaucratic oligarchy impose or ignore laws which is what is happening today.
That is no longer a Republic but something more sinister.

It seems all the conservative concerns about progressives political power grabs are being proved prescient.

Dec. 03 2013 09:52 AM

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