In a pre-election interview with 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Croft, Focus group guru Frank Luntz confessed his dismay at the prevailing attitude toward American politics. “It’s never been like this,” he said. “[Th]e Republicans are mad at Trump, and the Democrats are mad at Clinton. And the Bernie Sanders people are mad at everybody. When has that ever happened?”
As Luntz’ recent gatherings demonstrated, by and large, Americans are so fed up with politics that they can barely manage to maintain minimum levels of civility as they try to explain their frustration with our government and the officials running it. Much of the frustration stems not from the policies, or outcomes, but rather from systemic breakdowns. The fact is that many government officials on both sides of the aisle no longer seem to care much about playing by the rules or responding to the people.
There is one common thread running through the many and varied ways in which the D.C. power cabal plays fast and loose with the rulebook we know as the Constitution: they always have as their final result the accrual of more power in our nation’s Capitol. Year by year, no matter which party controls the Presidency or which controls Congress, D.C. politicians become more powerful and less accountable to us. Our national financial crisis worsens as the taxpayer’s money gets doled out to various special interest groups who can afford to pay full-time lobbyists.
Year by year, State officials have less room to maneuver their own policy initiatives or to explore innovative ideas for improving the lives of their own citizens. Now their time must be spent wrangling over whether to comply with federal policy directives in the hope of bringing some of our state’s tax dollars back home, or to resist, on principle, and answer to the citizens whose tax dollars will thus be funneled to D.C.-compliant states.
The question we should be asking isn’t whether D.C. policies are good policies or bad policies—it’s who should decide the policies that govern the most mundane aspects of our everyday lives? Should it be the D.C. politicians, or should it be the people of each individual state?
The nationwide Convention of States Project grassroots army thinks the answer is obvious.
We all know that average, ordinary citizens do not have the time, the energy, or the means to have any measurable influence on the decisions made in the halls of power in Washington, D.C. And yet we have allowed the number and scope of these very decisions to seep far beyond the scope of power the Constitution actually gives to the federal government. In so doing, we have unwittingly handed the keys to the kingdom to wealthy, powerful special interest groups who are situated to do nothing but influence federal politicians and bureaucrats.
How can we even imagine that the government that operates furthest away from our homes, isolated from the people and surrounded by special interests, will make decisions that are in our best interest?
Article V of the Constitution—the same Article V that was used to incorporate the Bill of Rights and the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to our Constitution—can be used to shift power away from Washington and back toward the people. If state legislators will work together on behalf of their constituents, they can use Article V to protect us from unwise, overreaching federal policies that come at the behest of those outside our states.
They can restore the states’ ability to create innovative policy solutions to the problems we face rather than leaving us to a one-size-fits-all approach handed down from Washington by people who may have never even set foot in our state. And by doing so, they will magnify the voices of the people, because we know them, and where they came from, and how we can reach them and share our concerns with them.
We recognize that voters on the Left and on the Right have vastly different ideas as to the types of public policies that will lead to real progress, but the one thing we all agree on is that Washington is broken and its politicians have been on the wrong track for a long time. The obvious solution is the one provided in Article V of the Constitution. Clarify—and limit—the scope of federal power so that ordinary citizens and their state legislators can play a meaningful role in policymaking again.
If this election demonstrated anything, it’s that we, the people, demand that the keys to government be returned to us. Our state legislators have the power to put those keys back in our hands.
Rita M. Dunaway is a constitutional attorney in Virginia. She currently serves as the National Legislative Strategist for the Convention of States Project, a nationwide, grassroots-driven Article V initiative. Learn more at www.conventionofstates.com. You can contact Dunaway at email@example.com.