Last week I watched this video of Dinesh D’Souza debating Bill Ayers at Dartmouth recently. While Ayers slammed the Founders and laid out his philosophy of redistribution and social justice, D’Souza focused on American exceptionalism, and clearly articulated why the Founders got it right.
D’Souza pointed out that throughout world history, wealth has generally been confiscated and then redistributed. However, our system of “self rule” in which all men are considered equal, along with a Constitution that limits what government can do to you, has allowed for actual wealth creation. Instead of waiting for government to cut up the pie and decide who gets what, we have the ability to make our own pie, and to make it as big as we want – which results in the proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats. This is why people in other countries want to come here – because it is a place where even the poor are well-fed and live in relative abundance.
About an hour and fifteen minutes in, an audience member referred to a bill recently introduced in New Hampshire, HCR10 – which the questioner misrepresented as calling for a “Constitutional Convention.” He then asked the panel members broadly, “What are we going to do about our Constitution?”
Predictably, Ayers’ eyes lit up, and he proceeded to talk about ways in which he would like to change it (including giving felons the right to vote, even while in prison). Sadly, as radical as his ideas are, many of us realize that politicians and bureaucrats already ignore and walk all over our Constitution on a fairly regular basis, and that unelected activist judges could very well someday make his dreams a reality.
D’Souza’s response was thus: “There are very few times in history, where there has been, almost out of nowhere, I would say a semi-miraculous event. Greece in the 5th century B.C. – out of nowhere – Pericles, Socrates, Aristophanes, theater, philosophy, all congregates together, and nobody knows what was there before, and there has not been a whole lot after. Elizabethan England, Germany in the 19th century, philosophy, music. . .”
“I think the American Founding is one such moment. A remarkable group of people with deep insight came together, and they gave us a formula for wealth creation. . .it terrifies me to think that, for example, we could have a Constitutional Convention now, and have a group of comparable wisdom, basically you can say ‘update’ the Founding. More likely we don’t need to redo the Founding; what we need to do is live by the principles of the Founding.”
I absolutely agree with D’Souza with respect to the unique and wonderful beginnings of our country, and I too would not care to gamble away our Constitution – especially with today’s leaders. However, this was a “straw man” argument, and D’Souza apparently did not pick up on it. Unfortunately, he is not the first conservative intellectual to fall for this fallacy. . .Phyillis Shlafly, another person I deeply admire and respect, has also conflated the two in the past.
We are not calling for a “Constitutional Convention” (often referred to as a “con-con”). Instead, precisely because we acknowledge the wisdom of the Founders, state legislatures are proposing to use the authority granted them in the Constitution (which the Founders put there by design as a check on federal power) to call for a Convention of States (COS) to amend the Constitution – NOT rewrite it.
Once people begin to understand the terminology, and take the time to study Article V, they will begin to appreciate the power the States have to restore the Constitution and federalism. Two thirds of both houses of Congress, or two thirds of the legislatures of the States, can propose amendments. In either case, the legislatures of three quarters of the States must ratify it in order for it to become law. Therefore, there is no risk of a runaway convention – though there certainly are numerous present-day examples of a runaway congress, a runaway executive, and a runaway judiciary.
Whether a COS is called to talk about term limits, a balanced budget, or tax reform – or to have a broader discussion about limiting the size and scope of the federal government – if we don’t deploy this Constitutional safeguard soon, we may lose what remains of our Constitution and our liberties.