How Constitutional “Rights” Sabotage American Democracy

The American Constitution is so revered that any criticism of it is sure to bring down shock and awe on my head. But it is what it is. And what it is sabotages democracy.

I am sure some conservatives will agree – but for entirely different reasons. They might see legalization of abortion and “the liberal media” as examples of the failure of the Constitution. I see them as examples of its success.

lobbyists2On the other hand, I see lobbying as an example of dismal Constitutional failure. I am quite sure the Founding Fathers did not intend to establish a system of legal bribery and bullying when they granted citizens the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. But apparently that’s what they did.

Perhaps the fault may not be so much in the wording of the Constitution as in the way the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted those words. Again, I can hear a chorus of conservative voices raising the specter of Rowe vs. Wade. But that’s not what I am talking about.

I am thinking of the Court’s ruling that corporations are entitled to the same “petitioning” rights as citizens. I don’t believe multinational corporations existed back when the Constitution was written, and I am sure that if they did, the Founding Fathers would have had little sympathy for their tyrannical policies.

I wonder what the Founding Fathers would say today if they could witness the abuses perpetrated by lobbyists under the guise of “petitioning the government for redress of grievances.” Lobbyists have overrun Washington, co-opting former elected representatives, bribing members of Congress, and – in some cases – actually writing the laws of the land.

Sometimes, the lobbyists go so far that even the indulgent court system sees their behavior as criminal. You might remember the recent Abramoff scandal as an example. But, usually, they get away with far more than anyone knows.

In examining the validity of lobbying, Brooks Jackson had this to say on a web site called FactCheck.org:

There are laws against bribery and corruption, and it can be debated whether those go far enough or are enforced properly. We offer no opinion on those matters. But it is a fact that the founders of this nation saw lobbying itself as something essential to the functioning of the new government, just like free speech and a free press.

I disagree. The “founders of this nation” saw no such thing. They could not conceive of lobbying as it is practiced today.

Concepts like “free speech” and “a free press” have limits in today’s society. Obviously I am not free to say anything I feel. I am not free to raise a false fire alarm in a crowded theater, or to libel or slander my neighbors, for example.  And as for the “free press,” please!  Don’t make me cry.

But when it comes to lobbying, it seems the sky’s the limit. Lobbyists are currently engaged not only in barefaced bribery to block health care reform; they have also organized mobs to disrupt town hall meetings on the issue. Under the guise of “foundations” and “think tanks,” they invent and disseminate lies and mischief. And who knows what else they get up to in those smoke-filled rooms on K Street?

I think the time has come to consider a Constitutional amendment addressing the “rights” of lobbyists. The consequences of allowing current trends to continue are too frightening to ignore.