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OPINION: Why Constitutional Amendments Aren't The Way to Fix Our Broken Politics

Author: David Yee
Created: 03 August, 2018
Updated: 17 October, 2022
3 min read

17,201 days.

That's how long it has been since the last constitutional amendment passed from start to finish in the 20th century, the 26th Amendment -- ratified July 1, 1971.

The 27th Amendment came later, but it was intended to be a part of the bill of rights -- and took just shy of 204 years to complete the process.

But 17, 201 days. This is a number we need to ingrain in our thinking when we start talking about any plan that requires a constitutional amendment to make it work.

And there seems to be an almost unlimited number of proposals currently touted that need to remember this key number. Proposals to limit term limits in Congress, proposals to eliminate income taxes, proposals to modify the Second Amendment, or even proposals to strengthen the 10th Amendment -- these proposals seem to span the entire color spectrum of the political divide.

But all seem to forget that consensus is almost impossible to create in American politics--especially when it comes to amendments.

Consensus is not always a good thing.

Right after 9/11, probably any constitutional amendment proposed would have had a likelihood, or at least possibility, to pass and be ratified. People were scared and confused.

With what may be one of the most honorable legacies of the GW Bush presidency -- he chose not to try to fast-track any amendments during the months of grief and chaos America faced.

When consensus exists, it's not always good -- and while amendments are hard to create, they are even harder to overturn.

The political divide in America is such that it would be impossible to get three-fourths of the states to agree on the color of an orange.

It's not just the red/blue divide.

It's the urban/country divide, the party infighting divides, as well as a healthy fear of amendments that exist in state legislatures -- they know they are doing something that could probably never be undone.

But even so, gaining the consensus of three-fourths of the states on any subject is unlikely at best, delusional at worst.

And what of the calling of the states for a convention?

Only one thought: Dangerous.

Historically, we can never forget that the Constitutional Convention that produced the Constitution was called under the auspices of Amending the Articles of Confederation -- not replacing them altogether.

There is no guarantee that anything that came out of such a convention would look anything similar to the Constitution that has created stability in our Republic for generations.

We need to consider these thoughts when we talk about political plans that require amendments to the Constitution.

Ideas like this are likely to be DOA as soon as they hit the floor of Congress -- never gaining enough support to advance even the earliest of stages.

We need ideas of consensus building that actually build consensus, and play on the strengths (or even fears) of our modern political system. We need to move past the rule by 'Executive Order, ' and put legislation squarely into the hands of the Congress.

But more importantly, we need real ideas of how to fix our problems. Not pie-in-the-sky ideas that would work if we could only muster the political will to do the right thing.

Doing the right thing comes in small stages, and grassroots movements start at the bottom and work their way to the top.

The independent movements in America need to focus on community-based governance, moving up to state-level, then national-level politics.

Only then, and even then possibly not, could a shot at creating a constitutional amendment succeed.

Until then, we need to do the work we need to do -- work at the local and state level. We need to find worthy candidates and support them. And we need to give up on these ideas that only work if/when we have some attached amendment.