Author Topic: A Thought & a Question on The Constitution  (Read 363 times)

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Offline Progmetty

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A Thought & a Question on The Constitution
« on: February 01, 2017, 11:13:48 PM »
Those of you who know me, know I'm an avid listener of NPR. Today I heard an episode of their program Fresh Air that I wanted to share with you guys, Terry Gross was talking to Jeffrey Rosen, the president of the National Constitution Center.
Here is the excerpt I wanted to talk about:

Quote
GROSS: What are you most concerned about constitutionally right now?

ROSEN: In one sense, all the constitutional conflict is maybe bad for the country but good for constitutional debate, which is what we exist at the National Constitution Center to host, trying to create a measure of public reason and resurrect the public reason that Madison thought was necessary for public - for democracy to survive. So if you ask what I'm most concerned about, I think it would be the death of that public reason.

If we really do live in a post-fact society and if we're so much in our filter bubbles and echo chambers that citizens can't converge around a common understanding of facts, then we can't sustain the public reason and civil discourse, which includes constitutional discourse that Madison thought was necessary for the republic to survive. The framers were cynical about the future of democracy. They studied failed democracies like Greece and Rome. They read Demosthenes.

They designed a constitution on the assumption that democracy might well deteriorate into demagoguery. And they created these complicated systems in order to filter the will of the people from being directly expressed. So all of these new media technologies, the idea of presidents tweeting directly to the people would have appalled Madison, who thought that direct communication between representatives and the people was the main potential source of tyranny to be avoided.

All of these filtering mechanisms are being undermined by technology, by reforms over the years, by the growing populist forces that are sweeping the world. And maintaining these Madisonian values in the face of these populist forces is something that I think liberals and conservatives increasingly should converge around.

GROSS: When you use the word populist, what do you mean?

ROSEN: Direct expression of the people's will. So Brexit is a populist referendum. You decide a huge constitutional question with one vote. The framers would never have allowed that.

GROSS: Why not?

ROSEN: They believed that you had to filter public opinion so people had time to deliberate. Only after passing through lots of different bodies and tests and checks could representative bodies or constitutional conventions be entitled to speak in the name of we the people. The people's constitutional views are supposed to be their most thoughtful, deliberative, deeply considered views completely separate from the temporary passions of the moment that can be measured by referenda or even by ordinary laws. So the whole constitutional system is designed to avoid spot votes and quick decisions and to ensure deliberation and public reason.

GROSS: And tyranny of the majority?

ROSEN: And tyranny of the majority, absolutely. And tyranny of the minority, too. The framers are concerned both about majority and minority faction. And a faction is any group of people, whether a majority or a minority, that binds together to threaten liberty and to threaten the interests of the people. And it can be mobs online, and it can be expressed in laws. And the framers designed the system to ensure that those forms of tyranny could not survive.

The thought:
I've been reading opinions and absorbing facts about the American constitution for the last 8 years since I moved here and every time I read something new or notice something makes sense in a new way; I admire it more and have more appreciation for it.
In this instance I'm thinking of why James Madison thought referendums are an awful idea, which I knew he did but I didn't quiet grasp why he thought so, in the light of how Rosen explains it.

Quote
ROSEN: They believed that you had to filter public opinion so people had time to deliberate. Only after passing through lots of different bodies and tests and checks could representative bodies or constitutional conventions be entitled to speak in the name of we the people. The people's constitutional views are supposed to be their most thoughtful, deliberative, deeply considered views completely separate from the temporary passions of the moment that can be measured by referenda or even by ordinary laws. So the whole constitutional system is designed to avoid spot votes and quick decisions and to ensure deliberation and public reason.

We've had two referendums in Egypt since the revolution in 2011, both easily went against the answer that would have moved us in the right direction. Back then I always thought the problem was letting EVERYBODY vote, a bit of an elitist POV but I thought most Egyptians were not fit to make such decisions, for several reasons but most importantly for high rate of illiteracy. But I also couldn't for the life of me figure out a good system to solve Yes or No decisions. I think the American constitutional system, for the most part, was designed to avoid a situation that makes a referendums a necessity. So yeah, hats off Madison, again and again.

The question:

Quote
They designed a constitution on the assumption that democracy might well deteriorate into demagoguery. And they created these complicated systems in order to filter the will of the people from being directly expressed. So all of these new media technologies, the idea of presidents tweeting directly to the people would have appalled Madison, who thought that direct communication between representatives and the people was the main potential source of tyranny to be avoided.

I kinda don't get that part. There are many ways that representatives talk to Americans, since we're talking about the president; we see presidents giving speeches on many occasions, tweeting is a modern form of that, why did James Madison think that direct communication was unhealthy? Or am I misunderstanding something here?

Full interview, audio and transcript here, I recommend checking it out.
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Offline Podaar

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Re: A Thought & a Question on The Constitution
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2017, 06:08:17 AM »
The question:

Quote
They designed a constitution on the assumption that democracy might well deteriorate into demagoguery. And they created these complicated systems in order to filter the will of the people from being directly expressed. So all of these new media technologies, the idea of presidents tweeting directly to the people would have appalled Madison, who thought that direct communication between representatives and the people was the main potential source of tyranny to be avoided.

I kinda don't get that part. There are many ways that representatives talk to Americans, since we're talking about the president; we see presidents giving speeches on many occasions, tweeting is a modern form of that, why did James Madison think that direct communication was unhealthy? Or am I misunderstanding something here?

Full interview, audio and transcript here, I recommend checking it out.

Yeah, that is weird. Maybe he misspoke? Perhaps he meant to say, "So all of these new media technologies, the idea of presidents tweeting directly to the people would have appalled Madison, who thought that direct communication between executive leadership and the people was the main potential source of tyranny to be avoided."

My understanding of the idea was the representatives were intended to be the filter between the people and the executive branch.

Offline Stadler

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Re: A Thought & a Question on The Constitution
« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2017, 06:55:37 AM »
Just my opinion, but there is a fundamental difference between a tweet and a speech.   A speech is a deliberate (and I'm using certain words here purposefully) statement - orally delivered, but printed for the record - of purpose and intent.  It is essentially a codification of the messages received by that leader from the people.   It is not debate.  It is not a two-way communication.  Tweets very much are.  They can be liked.  They can be "retweeted".  They can be commented on.  It's actually worse than what that guy said, because not only is it a "dialogue", but it's a twisted and limited dialogue.  It's not reasoned discourse - I have zero doubt that any of the founding fathers would have said "Pshaw!" at the idea that you could meaningfully encompass the issues of even 1776 in 140 characters or less, let alone the issues facing the Union circa 2016. 

EVERY aspect of the structure of our government is intended to further the principles that were set out above my Mr. Rosen.  The electoral college.  The veto.  The three branches of government.  The two houses of Congress.  The staggered terms (four years for President, six for Senators, two for representatives, lifetime for Supreme Court justices).   The power of states with regard to national elections.    It's really a marvelous, beautiful system, if you can get past the idea that it's not always going to result in things you absolutely love, and it's not always going to bring change as fast as you'd like it. 

Offline El Barto

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Re: A Thought & a Question on The Constitution
« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2017, 08:41:34 AM »
When they came up with this there really wasn't an efficient way to get face time. We barely had a postal service at that point. Presumably a person would meet with his constituents to get himself elected, and those constituents would rely on him to use the proper judgement they saw in him for the next 2, 4 or 6 years. While there would have been some input, it wouldn't have been much, and the slow, plodding nature of the system would filter that out to a large degree. They probably knew that communication would only be improving, but still designed our government to mitigate that to a large degree.

And while I agree with Stadler that this was a pretty remarkable system they created, all system eventually break down. The glacial pace action takes maneuvering through the complex schemes certainly helps, but we're streamlining things very quickly at this point. Combined with the extreme polarity of the asshats who represent us now, it's troubling to say the least.
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Offline Progmetty

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Re: A Thought & a Question on The Constitution
« Reply #4 on: February 07, 2017, 11:27:20 PM »
Yeah, that is weird. Maybe he misspoke? Perhaps he meant to say, "So all of these new media technologies, the idea of presidents tweeting directly to the people would have appalled Madison, who thought that direct communication between executive leadership and the people was the main potential source of tyranny to be avoided."

My understanding of the idea was the representatives were intended to be the filter between the people and the executive branch.

You're probably right about him meaning to say executive leadership.

Just my opinion, but there is a fundamental difference between a tweet and a speech.   A speech is a deliberate (and I'm using certain words here purposefully) statement - orally delivered, but printed for the record - of purpose and intent.  It is essentially a codification of the messages received by that leader from the people.   It is not debate.  It is not a two-way communication.  Tweets very much are.  They can be liked.  They can be "retweeted".  They can be commented on.  It's actually worse than what that guy said, because not only is it a "dialogue", but it's a twisted and limited dialogue.  It's not reasoned discourse - I have zero doubt that any of the founding fathers would have said "Pshaw!" at the idea that you could meaningfully encompass the issues of even 1776 in 140 characters or less, let alone the issues facing the Union circa 2016. 

Good point, tweeting cannot really be equated to speeches.
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