Marco Rubio’s Really Bad Idea

The USA Today’s editorial board thinks Marco Rubio is a moron for proposing a constitutional convention. Specifically, they note that a constitutional convention, although provided for as an option for amending the Constitution, would be a messy and unpredictable process, and quite likely to produce contentious results that divide the people.

They also dutifully point out that two out of the three changes that Rubio wants to make are horrible ideas:

There are also good reasons why amendments requiring a balanced budget or imposing term limits have not gotten out of Congress. Term limits on lawmakers would empower lobbyists and congressional staff — if all members of Congress were rookies, people who can stay in Washington would have even greater influence than they already do. A balanced budget amendment sounds like a good way of forcing politicians to do what they claim they want but almost never produce. But tying the government’s hands could have serious consequences during wartime, when spending surges, or during an economic downturn, when government borrowing can stop a recession from becoming a depression, as it did in 2007-09.

Rubio’s third proposal, term limits for Supreme Court Justices, is definitely a defensible position and wouldn’t fundamentally alter the shape of the country or cripple the efficiency and effectiveness of government. But, it’s also an idea that might have a snowball’s chance of passing through the ordinary, conventional amendment process.

Marco Rubio (16491577129)

[By Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons]

The Balanced Budget Amendment, on the other hand, is the stupidest (or, perhaps, most dangerous) idea ever conceived, and term limits for lawmakers is premised on a couple of really bad ideas. The first is that the people are incapable of responsibly making their own decisions about whom to elect as their representatives. And the second is that the best way to make lawmakers more accountable to the people is to prevent them from facing reelection (which is their accountability moment). The effect of term limits is (and would be in the U.S. Congress) precisely what the USA Today’s editorial board predicts. Novice lawmakers are more reliant on staff and lobbyists and haven’t had time to become deeply knowledgable about areas they are responsible for overseeing, funding, and regulating. You get a dumber government that is more in the pocket of special interests.

The reaction to Rubio’s proposal is lukewarm even at the National Review, where renowned “Constitutional scholar” Jim Geraghty took out his crayons and tried and failed to respond coherently. Geraghty claims that Rubio’s solution to big government “puts the cart before the horse” because the real problem is an “American populace that doesn’t know what’s in the Constitution, can’t be bothered to learn, and doesn’t particularly care.” However, it’s not really the populace’s fault: “The problem isn’t really the words on the parchment; the problem is the people who are making the laws and the courts that interpret them.” That’s two different “real problems” but he’s got a third:

…[Mark] Levin writes, “the situation today is that the federal government re-writes, modifies, usurps, defies, etc. the Constitution virtually at will. As such, the Constitution as written and intended is meaningless in many respects.” If that’s the case, how can we be certain the government wouldn’t just go back to ignoring the Constitution after the convention?

In other words, if the real problem is a largely Constitutionally-illiterate electorate… would a convention of the states solve it?

So, to recap here, Rubio’s idea isn’t a good one because a) the populace is illiterate, b) the lawmakers and the judges are illiterate, and c) what’s actually in the Constitution is irrelevant.

What goes unquestioned are the merits of these three Constitutional amendments.

I know it’s silly season and that candidates are looking to make some kind of splash with their party’s primary voters and caucus-goers, but it’s pretty pathetic when your best pandering effort relies not on what you’ll do as president but on amending the Constitution. It’s especially bad when you’re saying that you’ll have to rely on a provision of the Constitution that hasn’t been used since the original convention. And it goes off the charts as pathetic when the amendments themselves are horrible ideas.

But, at least it’s all consistent with the idea that our government is made up of horrible people who spend too much money, right?

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.