Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Will John Kerry walk on the wild side? America needs a “Council of Twelve”

by Bernie Quigley

- For The Hill on 2/3/10

Senator John Kerry is calling for states to amend the Constitution. It would be dramatic but he said it is necessary to restore restrictions on corporate influence in politics. Possibly this idea is not exactly catching fire because Kerry, one of the world’s super rich, doesn’t need corporate money while most of his Senate colleagues do. But if he wants to amend the Constitution and not just a sound bite in attempt to overshadow his new colleague Scott Brown, why doesn’t he show the courage to call for a constitutional convention? California is holding one and Rudy Giuliani has proposed that New York hold one as well. That way he could gather supporters in from all the states on a variety of issues that need discussion.

Issues such as:

- Should gay marriage be a states’ rights issue as Barney Frank and Scott Brown have suggested?

- Should abortion be a states’ rights issue as William F. Buckley, Jr. once suggested?

- Should the 10th Amendment be the First Amendment as Jefferson might suggest?

- Do we really need a federal reserve bank? Ron Paul has suggested we get rid of it.

- Should we go back to a gold standard?

- Is California really one state or two states or more?

That last one is a little tricky. It bears on some thinking by George Kennan, America’s greatest ambassador since Franklin, in his later years. He got attached to the idea of a Council of Elders, an idea actually first thought up by four creative undergraduates at Wake Forest University which somehow migrated to Kennan probably via the Gorbachev Foundation. This would be a group much like the Canadian Senate was once intended to be. A collection of people from varied walks – artists, doctors, monks, hockey players, trappers, business people, voyageurs, etc. – who expressed the whole of Canadian consciousness and not just the narrow political and legal spectrum. They would not make law but would advise the law making body. This might be considered a “Council of Twelve” like so many religious and social groups since ancient time which have found holistic balance in twelve representatives.
In one of his last books, “Round the Cragged Hill,” in which he said he “ . . . attempted to take the higher gorund” Kennan wrote: “I have often diverted myself, and puzzled my friends, by wondering how it would be if our country, while retaining certain of the rudiments of a federal government, were to be decentralized into something like a dozen constituent republics, absorbing not only the powers of the existing states but a considerable part of those of the present federal establishment. I could conceive of something like nine of these republics—let us say, New England; the Middle Atlantic states; the Middle West; the Northwest (from Wisconsin to the Northwest, and down the Pacific coast to central California); the Southwest (including southern California and Hawaii); Texas (by itself); the Old South; Florida (perhaps including Puerto Rico); and Alaska; plus three great self-governing urban regions, those of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles—a total of twelve constituent entities. To these entities I would accord a larger part of the present federal powers than one might suspect—large enough, in fact, to make most people gasp.”

This vision could find form in a “Council of Twelve” regional brokerages or agencies between states and the federal government. It would solve Mitt Romney’s problems with “one size fits all” federalism. It would bring equibrium between small states and big states. It would change the way we think of ourselves as Americans, bringing us “down to earth” by giving us back our sense of place and region, while keeping us united continentally as Americans. But it would require a few giant steps and maybe even a constitutional convention.