A recent Salon article delved into the political madness leading up to the 2012 presidential election; concluding the high-stakes campaigning and posturing brings out silliness in us all and, “like sex, politics makes almost everybody stupid.” Is this the type of democracy that our founding fathers envisioned when they penned the Constitution of the United States? Well, sort of.
In 1787, the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the governing framework in which, “all legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” Simply put, laws are constructed and determined by an elected body, not directly by “We the People.”
On February 1st, we kick off the 2012 Illahee Lecture Series with Christopher Phillips, author of Constitution Cafe: Jefferson’s Brew for a True Revolution (2011). In his unique project, Phillips asks average Americans how they would rewrite the constitution, if given the opportunity. As Phillips details in his book, the best democracy (according to Thomas Jefferson) is one where every citizen is an acting member of government. Jefferson, often mistakenly included as a Founding Father of the Constitution, believed that the type of democracy outlined by the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention sidelines citizens via elected representation, making them “inattentive to public affairs” and leaving the “professional politicians [to] all become wolves — doing as they will because of an apathetic citizenry.”
This type of apathy brings out the worst in politics and politicians, leaving our public discourse mired in pseudo-facts and deliberately distorted points of view. How would the upcoming presidential campaign look if Americans were more active participants in our democracy — not just bodies to make phone calls and run internet “hope” campaigns? What if we were able actively rewrite our constitution to better suit the needs of today’s citizens, rather than live by a blueprint for democracy that is over 200 years old?
We encourage you to dust off that copy of the Constitution sitting on your bookshelf and read it from start to finish (presumably for the first time since grade school). Then, join us for our exciting 2012 lecture season as we tackle a few sacred cows — democracy, jobs, education, health care, and national defense.