Reviewing Ferdinand Lundberg's
"Cracks in the Constitution"
by Stephen Lendman
Ferdinand Lundberg (1905 - 1995) was
a 20th century economist, journalist, historian and author of
such books as The Rich and the Super-Rich: A Study in the Power
of Money Today; The Myth of Democracy; Politicians and Other Scoundrels;
and the subject of this review - Cracks in the Constitution.
Lundberg's book was published twenty-seven
years ago, yet remains as powerfully important and relevant today
as then. Simply put, the book is a blockbuster. It's must reading
to learn what schools to the highest levels never teach about
the nation's most important document that lays out the fundamental
law of the land in its Preamble, Seven Articles, Bill of Rights,
and 17 other Amendments. Lundberg deconstructs it in depth, separating
myth from reality about what he called "the great totempole
of American society."
He does it in 10 exquisitely written chapters
with examples and detail galore to drive home his key message
that our most sacred of all documents is flawed. It was crafted
by 55 mostly ordinary but wealthy self-serving "wheeler dealers"
(among whom only 39 signed), and the result we got and now live
with falls far short of the "Rock of Ages" it's cracked
up to be. That notion is pure myth. This review covers in detail
how Lundberg smashed it in each chapter.
The Sacred Constitution
Lundberg quickly transfixes his readers
by disabusing them of notions commonly held. Despite long-held
beliefs, the Constitution is no "masterpiece of political
architecture." It falls far short of "one great apotheosis
(bathed) in quasi-religious light." The finished product
was a "closed labyrinthine affair," not an "open"
constitution like the British model. It was the product of duplicitous
politicians and their close friends scheming to cut the best deals
for themselves by leaving out the great majority of others who
The myths we learned in school and through
the dominant media are legion, long-standing and widely held among
the educated classes. They and most others believe the framers
crafted a Constitution that "powerfully restrained and fettered"
the federal government and created "a limited government
(or a) government of limited powers." It's simply not so
because through the power of the chief executive it can do "whatever
it is from time to time" it wishes. In that respect, it's
no more precise and binding than The Ten Commandments the Judaic
and Christian worlds violate freely and willfully all the time.
Even so-called "born-again" types, like the current
President, do it, along with Popes, past and present, and the
former Israeli Sephardi chief rabbi, Mordechai Eliyahu, who advocates
mass killing by carpet bombing Gaza to save Jewish lives.
The "supreme Law of the Land"
here deters no President or sitting government from doing as they
wish, law or no law. The Constitution is easily ignored with
impunity by popular or unpopular governments doing as they please
and inventing reasons as justification. Lundberg is firm in debunking
the notion that America is a government of laws, not men. It's
"palpable nonsense of the highest order," he said.
Governments enacting laws are composed of men who lie, connive,
misinterpret and pretty much operate ad libitum discharging their
duties as they see fit for their own self-interest.
It was no different in 1787 when 55 delegates
(privileged all) assembled for four months in the same Philadelphia
State House, where the Declaration of Independence was signed
11 years earlier, to rework the Articles of Confederation into
a Constitution that would last into "remote futurity,"
as long as possible, or until others later changed it. None of
them were happy with the finished product but felt it was the
best one possible under the circumstances and better than nothing
The document is "crisply worded"
and can easily be read in 20 to 30 minutes and just as easily
be totally misunderstood. The sole myth in it is stated in its
opening Preamble words: "We the people of the United States....do
ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of
America." In fact, "the people" nowhere entered
the process, then or since.
At its beginning, "the people"
who mattered were established white male property owning delegates
and members of state ratifying conventions who rammed the ratification
process through, by fair or foul means, in the face of a "largely
indifferent and uncomprehending populace" left out entirely.
They were elected to do it by eligible and interested while males
comprising only from 12.5 - 15.5% of the electorate at the time.
Women, blacks, Indians and children couldn't vote and many or
most qualified voters didn't bother to and still don't. The process,
and what it produced, showed "Democracy operatively is little
more than a fantasy."
The American revolution was nothing more
than secession from the British empire changing very little with
one-third of the colonists favoring it (not upper classes), one-third
opposed (mainly upper classes) and another third indifferent to
the whole business. From then to now, the country is no nearer
"government by the people" than under monarchal or autocratic
rule. The latter types rule by application or threat of force
whereas sovereign people are manipulated by other means with naked
force held in reserve if needed.
Lundberg explained the minimum function
of government, ours or others, should be to insure the public
welfare is being broadly served. It's stated in the Preamble
and Article I, Section 8 that "The Congress shall have power
to....provide for....(the) general welfare of the United States"
- the so-called welfare clause. Lundberg let scholar Herman Finer
(with more detail on his ideas below) dispel the notion from the
constitutional flaws he found and some of the many "social
and political evils" he recounted as a result through the
middle 20th century decades - rampant crime, unsafe streets, lack
of justice, political corruption, dishonest police, racketeering
labor officials, corporate fraud in pursuit of profits, raging
unresolved social problems and lots more. Only government can
address these issues and unless it does successfully it fails.
Our is a long history of failure overall with only feeble attempts
to fix things.
Lundberg reviewed popular misconceptions
about the Constitution saying so many are embedded in the American
psyche it's hard knowing where to begin. He noted the document
is called "The Living Constitution" saying, in fact,
it's "whatever government does or does not do" or uses
in whatever way it wishes. The Constitution defines itself as
the "supreme Law of the Land" in Article VI, Section
2 which it is and includes all amendments, enacted statutes and
treaties made with the concurrence (not ratification) of the Senate.
The people are left out of the process entirely with Lundberg
saying "government of the people, by the people and for the
people" is a "nonexistent entity. The people don't
govern either directly or through 'representatives.' The people
In sum, although the Constitution served
many of the purposes its designers and supporters envisioned,
in light of the majority populace's great expectations of it,
"it has been, quite plainly, a huge flop." That's made
"We the People"
Lundberg destroys the romanticism and
enthusiasm felt today about the Constitution and the revolt against
Great Britain preceding it. He began by reviewing the establishment
of state constitutions at the time and the enactment of the Articles
of Confederation adopted by the Second Continental Congress November
15, 1777 with final ratification March 1, 1781. None of these
events had electoral sanction. "They were strictly coup d'etat
affairs, run by small groups of self-styled patriots many of whom
bettered their personal economic positions significantly"
from the revolution and events before and after it took place.
Despite what's commonly taught in schools, most people opposed
the Constitution when it was ratified. So by getting it done
anyway, the framers (with the conservative Federalists spearheading
the effort) went against the will of the people they ignored and
It wasn't easy, though, as only by promising
amendments did it happen. The anti-Federalist opposition demanded
and got the "oft-hymned" first ten amendments, commonly
known as the Bill of Rights. In fact, they "made no great
difference," and did little to dilute the 1787 document.
More on that below.
Lundberg explained that most anti-Federalists
weren't particularly happy either with the Articles of Confederation
or the Constitution. These men were mostly privileged property
owners (all white, of course) squabbling over the means to get
pretty similar ends and having a generally hostile attitude about
the majority population overall. In other words, everyone was
not considered "We the people," which is how radical
English Whigs felt and whose traditions colonists adopted. "The
illiterate and underprivileged (elements) were not much considered"
with the "people" again being the privileged male property
owners in charge of everything and out only for their own self-interest.
Lundberg cited voting patterns earlier,
up to his time, and clearly now as well, to explain how people
are left out of the political process. Whether franchised or
not, most don't vote in presidential elections and even fewer
show up for congressional, state and local ones. It indicates
the will of the people needs considerable qualifying because most
of them aren't interested, don't want to bother, don't think it
matters, don't understand the whole process, and decide to opt
out and act like nothing's going on. "Although repugnant
to ideologists of democracy," Lundberg stated, "this
conclusion is quite true."
In sum, the relevance of this to the Constitution
is that its opening words are meaningless window dressing. They
neither add nor detract from the document which served as a "screen
and launching pad for practically autonomous, freely improvising
politicians (like any others in the world)....the gentry....sustained
(in whatever their endeavors were) by the constitutional structure"
they created for their own self-serving purposes.
What the Framers Thought
This section covers who these men were
below as well as more about them in the section to follow. Here,
first off, the record needs to be set straight about what these
very ordinary men (contrary to popularized myth about them) thought
about their creation we extoll today like it came down from Mt.
Sinai. In fact, it was the result of wheeling and dealing in
likely smoke-filled rooms the way deals are cut today with lots
of real and figurative smoke to go along with the usual mirrors.
When they finished in September, 1787, there was no joy in Philadelphia.
The framers disliked their creation, some could barely tolerate
it, yet most signed it.
They understood its defects, that it was
full of holes, thought it was the best they could do under the
circumstances, felt it was a mess, but, nonetheless, believed
they could live with it for the time being, hoping it wouldn't
come back to bite them. Lundberg said they likely "kept
their fingers crossed." One other thing was clear, though,
despite "crowd-titillating campaign oratory" about their
creation ever since. Not a single framer suggested "a sheltered
haven was being prepared for the innumerable heavily laden, bedraggled,
scrofulous and oppressed of the earth." On the contrary,
they intended to keep them that way showing not a lot is fundamentally
different then than now, and the so-called founders were a pretty
devious bunch, not the noble characters we've been taught to believe.
As already explained, the deal got done
with the usual kinds of wheeling and dealing, and, in the end,
a lot of opponents being won over by agreeing to tack on the so-called
Bill of Rights that was deliberately left out at first. The dominant
elements behind the convention were what today are called nationalists.
More precisely, they were "centralizers who were continental
and global in their thinking." The opposition consisted
of "localists," later called "states-righters,"
who preferred a decentralized government. The "centralizers"
wanted a single or central national capital run by superior people
by their definition - the rich and better-connected regardless
of ability. Men like John Adams and John Jay (the first High
Court chief justice) felt government should be run, in Adams'
words, by "the rich, the well born, and the able."
There was no disagreement on that notion.
There were no populists in the bunch,
no anti-property party, and even the most vocal civil libertarians,
like Jefferson and George Mason, were slave-owners. Washington,
for his part, contributed no pet constitutional ideas other than
wanting to protect the new nation from drifting toward disunion
which, in fact, happened with the outbreak of the Civil War in
1861. Lundberg described him as "the very top dog of the
Philadelphia accouchement (the constitutional birthing process)."
He understood the key reason for adopting a flawed document,
no matter how bad it was or how the framers felt about it. Accepting
it was the way to prevent disunion and resulting confusion that
might have prevailed if public consideration entered the equation
to become accepted policy and law.
Conflicting ideas of concern at the time
visualized three central governments consisting of the New England
states, middle Atlantic ones, and those in the South with likely
new entries to follow in the West. The framers worried this arrangement
might cause endless bickering and wars as well as rivalrous agreements
and arrangements with other countries. In one stroke, the Constitution
produced a united front against an ever-encroaching Europe and
Lundberg spent much time on who the founders
were this review can only touch on. It's enough just to put a
few faces on a group of crass opportunists who today are practically
ranked along side the Apostles. But who's to say those few were
any better than others of their day the way myths are constructed
and passed on through the ages unchallenged in mainstream thinking.
And don't forget that, in his first term, George Bush might have
been aiming for sainthood by claiming he got his orders directly
from God who told him to "strike at Al-Queda....and then....
to strike at Saddam." Even the framers didn't claim that
type heavenly connection.
They did have Lundberg's focus beginning
with Alexander Hamilton, Washington's wartime aide-de-camp, first
Secretary of the Treasury and acknowledged leader of the Federalists.
Here's what this noted man thought of the Constitution in 1802.
In a letter, he called it "a shilly shally thing of mere
milk and water (and) a frail and worthless document." This
is from the man, more than any other in Philadelphia, who was
its most articulate and passionate champion. Franklin, too, had
doubts as the grand old man, but mere enfeebled figurehead at
the convention, who also signed the final document. He was against
two separate chambers, disapproved of some of the articles and
wanted others that weren't included.
Then there's James Madison miscalled "The
Father of the Constitution," which he expressly repudiated
and a year later wrote "I am not of the number if there be
any such, who think the Constitution lately adopted a faultless
work.....(It's) the best that could be obtained from the jarring
interests of the states....Something, anything, was better than
nothing." Madison's disaffection went even further, in fact.
At the convention, he was an ardent "centralizer,"
but 10 years later he reversed himself by aligning with those
wanting to recapture more state power. He also spent most of
his life disagreeing with the way the document he helped write
Lundberg covered a few other framers most
people know little or nothing about but played their part along
with the better known ones. They included men like Nicholas Gilman
from New Hampshire, William Pierce and William Few from Georgia,
Pierce Butler and Charles Pinckney from South Carolina, Robert
Morris, Gouverneur Morris (no relation) and James Wilson from
Pennsylvania, Jonathan Dayton from New Jersey, and James McHenry
Of the total 55 delegates attending, 39
signed and 16 didn't, but doing it or not was just a pro forma
exercise as only the states had power to accept or reject it.
None of the framers believed the Constitution was the glorious
achievement people ever since were led to believe - quite the
opposite, in fact, but most still went along with it as better
than nothing. The nation's second and third Presidents, Adams
and Jefferson, were abroad and didn't attend the convention although
Adams was considered the leading constitutional theorist at the
time. His views had weight and were strong ones. Lundberg noted
for the rest of his life until 1826 he consistently criticized
the document in private correspondence.
Jefferson overall was just as unhappy.
Until it was added, he objected to the omission of a Bill of
Rights. He also disliked the lack of any requirements for rotation
in office, especially the office of the presidency he wished to
be ineligible for a succeeding term. In 1801, he was involved
with others proposing a menu of changes to strengthen a document
he believed was flawed. He also didn't think any constitution
could survive the test of time, unchanged forever, able to meet
all legitimate needs, and as a consequence wanted a new convention
every 20 years to update things and fix obvious problems.
Lundberg felt Jefferson and Adams' main
objection was they had no part in writing it or were even consulted
on what should go in it. They had a point. Adams, as noted,
was the leading constitutional theorist of the time and Jefferson
(in Lundberg's view) was the most consummate politician in the
nation's history, but by no means its best President.
The convention ended September 17, 1787
"in an atmosphere verging on glumness." Delegates signing
it were just witnesses to the actions of state delegations, not
as individual endorsers, and despite their public approval, nearly
all had "inner qualms." James Monroe from Virginia,
a future President, was one of them. He voted nay with 15 others
that included important figures like George Mason, Elbridge Gerry
and Edmund Randolph.
Southern delegates were won over for ratification
by strengthening chattel slavery. The Constitution forbade the
federal government from emancipating slaves until Lincoln acted
in a meaningless 1862 politically motivated Executive Order. It
wasn't until Congress passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments,
and enough states ratified them, that the law changed freeing
the slaves and giving them nominal rights they never, in fact,
had in the South at least for another 100 years. Lundberg noted
the "slavocracy was not terminated....for moral reasons;
it committed suicide for political and economic reasons, blinded
by simple greed and vaingloriousness, and long after slavery was
abolished in most places elsewhere."
Who the Framers Were
Lundberg asked: "Who were these men
about whom so many (unjustifiably) have rhapsodized? Fifty-five
in total showed up in Philadelphia in 1787 out of 74 authorized
by state legislatures. A fourth of them stayed only briefly,
another quarter checked in and out like tourists, and no more
than five men carried most of the discussion with seven others
playing "fitful" supporting roles.
Further, they didn't, in fact, come to
write a new constitution. They were congressionally authorized
only to propose amendments to the prevailing Articles of Confederation.
Little did they all know in May what would emerge in September,
or maybe the ones who counted most did.
Of the 19 non-attending delegates, 11
wanted nothing to do with the affair, were opposed to it, distrusted
it, and thought it rigged from the start. The other eight had
various excuses - illness (political or real), focused at home
with other business, not having their travel expenses covered,
and reluctant to make such a long trip to be away from home and
hearth for months.
Of those showing up, 33 were lawyers,
44 present or past members of Congress, 46 had political positions
at home, including seven as former governors and five high state
judges. These were men of note and economic means who promoted
their own financial interests and parallel activity in government.
In a word, they were movers and shakers or as Lundberg called
them - "wheeler dealers."
He described the group as a "gathering
of the rich, the well-born and, here and there, the able (with
that quality being the exception)." Washington and Robert
Morris were reputed to be the richest men in the country with
property holdings in most cases being their main component of
wealth at the time along with slaveholdings on it. Directly
or indirectly as lawyers or principals, these men were an assemblage
of "planters, bankers, merchants, ship-owners, slave-traders,
smugglers, privateers, money-lenders, investors, and speculators
in land and securities" - essentially a group of powerful
figures not much different from their counterparts today. With
a few exceptions, Lundberg said they'd now be called a "Wall
In their mind, "The clear aim of
the Constitution was to launch a system that would protect, and
enable to flourish, the general interests there represented."
With Great Britain removed, a vacuum was created. The Constitution,
with a new government, was created to fill it restoring the same
essential British commercial and financial system under new management,
or as the French would say, everything changed yet everything
stayed the same. Republican government simply removed British
monarchal wrappings to operate pretty much the same way. Lundberg
quoted Daniel Leonard saying "Never in history had there
been so much rebellion with so little real cause" and so
little change following it. As for the ingredients of the Constitution,
Lundberg explained nearly all of them could have been "stamped
with the benchmark 'Originated in England.' Only the mixture was
Further, 27 delegates were future members
of Congress, two were future Presidents, one a future Vice-President,
one a Speaker of the House, and five future High Court justices.
They produced a Constitution generated along predetermined lines
by the government itself by "a small self-selected elite
at the center of government affairs." They did it in deliberately
general, vague, ambiguous language, the product of consummate
self-serving insiders. The "people" were nowhere in
sight then or for the later future amendment ratifications, all
of which were done solely by similar-minded self-serving later
officials for their own political purposes. It's always been
that way from the beginning, of course, and is strikingly so today.
Lundberg then reviewed the political background
and record of the delegates starting off with the elder statesman
in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin, the wisest of the bunch. In
1787, he was an octogenarian, attended as a mere figurehead, signed
the final document, but was too enfeebled to address the convention
at its end, so he enlisted a friend to read his rather notable
and prescient remarks to the others saying:
"I agree to this Constitution with
all its faults....I think a General Government (is) necessary
for us (and) may be a blessing....if well-administered; (I "farther"
believe that's likely) for a Course of Years (but) can only end
in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People
shall have become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government,
being incapable of any other." Imagine such a dark prophecy
at the nation's birth by a man who never met George Bush but was
wise enough to know he'd arrive sooner or later. Franklin today
would surely say "I warned you, didn't I."
Other notable signers were less insightful,
or if they were, didn't let on. Two of them, John Dickinson and
William Johnson were members of the 1765 Stamp Act Congress.
Six others were members of the mainly conservative First Continental
Congress of 1774 - Thomas Mifflin, Edmund Randolph, George Read,
John Rutledge, Roger Sherman, and George Washington.
Other important attendees were Elbridge
Gerry, Roger Sherman, George Mason, John Langdon, Robert Morris,
Gouverneur Morris (no relation) and William Livingston. Lundberg
called Langdon, Livingston, Randolph, Rutledge and R. Morris political
power bosses or power-brokers of their day, and Robert Morris
was known to his friends and enemies as the "Great Man."
He was the unmatched financial giant of the era with Lundberg
saying "his brain would have made two of Hamilton" and
that his economic and political power at the time were unrivaled
matching that of the House of Morgan in the early 20th century
combined with New York's Tammany Hall.
According to Lundberg, however, this was
no "all-star political team" compared to other more
distinguished figures not there - Jefferson, John and Sam Adams,
John Jay, John Hancock, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Rush, Paul Revere,
John Paul Jones, Patrick Henry and many others. Apart from two
notables, Washington and Franklin, as well as Robert Morris, few
later became prominent nationally. In 1787, Madison and Hamilton
(Washington proteges) were virtual unknowns.
Lundberg noted nothing on record shows
this assemblage to have been extraordinarily learned, profound
in their thinking or even unusually capable. Only 25 attended
college, and "the one man who held the convention together
by the mere force of his presence"....Washington, never got
beyond the fifth grade. Franklin was mostly self-taught and Hamilton
was a college dropout his first year. Robert Morris, the JP Morgan
of his day, and George Mason also never attended college. Of
the 25 college attendees, only Madison, Wilson and G. Morris were
contributors of note.
In point of fact, colleges in those days
were quite rudimentary and graduated students at a much earlier
age, often as young as 16, and a bright student could master the
law for a degree in a matter of weeks the way Hamilton did. The
same was true in England at the time with Oxford and Cambridge
not then considered distinguished educational centers as they
Most of the attending delegates also had
military backgrounds, but writing about them kept that information
secret. Lundberg stressed it saying "the gathering took
on the complexion of the general staff of the war of the revolution."
Why not, the boss himself was there, Washington, along with his
leading officers. In all, 27 delegates served under him in the
war. He knew them, most of the others, and all of them stood
in awe of him as a larger than life figure. He was "always
the nonpareil," assured he'd be the new nation's uncontested
first president. He had no party affiliation, ran unopposed twice
and got all the votes for two terms in a process more like coronations
He and the other delegates came to Philadelphia,
assembled, did their work and went home in many cases to pursue
"their eclipse." Lundberg explained "As a collection
of supposedly highly sagacious men, the post-convention careers
of the framers raise a big question mark." Ten went bankrupt
or became broke, several were involved in financial scandals,
two died in duels, one became a shattered drunkard, two "flittered"
with treason, one was expelled from the Senate, one went mad,
others quarreled bitterly among themselves about politics and
interpreting the document they created, and most switched political
sides for convenience in their subsequent quests for office.
Washington himself, likely died from medical malpractice, the
victim of a bloodletting procedure, after he took ill, when he
needed all he had.
Other framers began dying off as well,
a number of them right after the convention and at ages considered
very young today for some. Robert (JP Morgan) Morris went bankrupt
speculating in public lands and securities, owed millions as a
result, served three and a half ignominious years in debtors'
prison, and died broke in 1806. Other framers also speculated
and lost heavily in their financial dealings.
Hamilton was one of the few Philadelphia
delegates to achieve a notable post-convention record as Washington's
Secretary of the Treasury and Federalist Party leader. Noteworthy
as well was Gouverneur Morris, no relation to Robert. Finally,
there was James Madison who was neither the Constitution's father
or its indispensable or principle source. He, in fact, had no
original or unique ideas to bring to the convention. In this
respect, he was like all the others.
Madison did perform a hugely important
function as an "amanuensis," dutifully and painstakingly
recording the convention proceedings in what historians today
call an accurate and complete stenographic record, the best available.
It was not until 1840 that it became public after Congress bought
it from his estate. He documented what Lundberg called "startling"
- that the convention delegates were "a group of men intent
upon securing various special economic interests" and weren't
the "philosophically detached cogitators they had been held
up in propaganda to be."
Madison's report shattered the view that
these men came together to devise the best possible government.
From the start, they knew what they wanted (at least the key
ones there) and set about getting it. Madison was also a powerful
advocate on the convention floor of widely discussed views. Unlike
the others, he had no considerable property or means, but he lived
to age 85, outlasted all the other framers, and served as the
nation's fourth President. In total, eight delegates at most
can be considered weighty. The rest were "routine or parochial
or both," and that conclusion is astounding for a group of
55 leading men of the day who "participated in the formulation
of a reputed deathless document" and are revered in classrooms
and society as larger-than-life icons.
The Gorgeous Convention
Lundberg stared off saying "The constitutional
convention of 1787, an historical event of first-class importance,
was itself an entirely routine, utterly uninspiring political
caucus....it produced absolutely no prodigies of statecraft, no
wonders of political (judgment), no vaulting philosophies, no
Promethean vistas." In point of fact, as already stressed
and repeated, what happened contradicts all we've been "indoctrinated
from ears to toes" to believe that's pure nonsense. Lundberg
called the main fantasy the popular conception that the Constitution
is "a document of salvation....a magic talisman." The
central achievement of the convention, and a big one, (at least
until 1861) was the cobbling together of disparate and squabbling
states into a union that held together tenuously for over seven
decades but not actually until Appomattox "at bayonet point."
As mentioned above, the delegates came
to Philadelphia merely to amend the unwieldy Articles of Confederation
so what it did was, "strictly viewed, illegal." The
finished product emerged as an amalgam of the existing Maryland,
New York and Massachusetts constitutions dating respectively from
1776, 1777 and 1790, the latter one written almost entirely by
John Adams in a few days. Even though he was abroad in London
at the time, the finished Constitution was largely the product
of his earlier work. Of those attending, no individual theorist
dominated proceedings, but two dominant personalities held things
together as its "living core." Without the force of
their presence, Lundberg explained, the whole process "would
almost surely have foundered."
Those men were George Washington, the
larger-than- life victorious general of the revolution, and "Great
Man" Robert Morris, the JP Morgan-type figure who later went
bust because even financial whizards can succumb to excess greed.
Gouverneur Morris also was prominent in the proceedings while
Madison and Hamilton, as already explained, were virtual unknowns.
Lundberg called the convention "very
much a prefabricated group affair" with internal differences
over concentrating power in the President or Congress. Then,
there were the "tight nationalizers, those generally wanting
a national government, and lastly in the minority "states-righters"
believing no state power should be surrendered to a federal authority.
"As for flat-out democrats," said Lundberg, "there
were none in sight." In terms of what they achieved, he called
it "Old Wine in a Fancy New Bottle" with a new name
under new management. The purpose of the convention was to gain
formal approval for what the leading power figures wanted and
then get their creation rammed through the state ratification
process to make it the law of the land. On that score, and after
much wheeling and dealing, they achieved mightily.
The convention began in May, went on through
three phases for 120 days, and concluded in September after dozens
of parliamentary-type votes to postpone, reconsider, amend, etc.
with a document produced and turned over to a committee of detail
in late July. The final phase ran from August 6 to September
17, nine states were needed for ratification with the larger,
more populous ones, granting concessions to the small ones to
win the day.
Several scenarios or plans were proposed,
one of which was the Virginia Plan envisioning a central national
government with a bicameral legislature that, of course, was adopted.
All the plans were "strongly rightist" or conservative.
Members of the lower house were to be elected by the people and
those in the upper body by members of the lower one. That became
the law and stayed that way until the 17th Amendment, ratified
in 1913, allowed the people of each state to elect their own senators.
Also proposed was a chief executive, a
national judiciary with a Supreme Court at the top, and provisions
for admitting new states with republican governments in them all.
In addition, the finished Constitution included proposals for
amendments and much else including terms of office and staggered
elections to prevent too many officials being unseated at the
same time. The final product was what one academic observer called
a "bundle of compromises" from beginning to end.
Lundberg described the delegates as "flinty
hard-liners, determined to have their way, never to yield on anything
substantial....willing to make purely political compromises (over)
the means of carrying on government (but) adamantly resistant....when
it came to (its) ends." Those were primarily economic and
social, and those were left as they were when ties with Great
Britain were cut.
Thinking then was much like today with
provisions in the Constitution targeting the discontented. Congress
was empowered to raise revenue through taxation, always hitting
the less advantaged hardest. It was authorized to borrow money
without limit meaning the people would have to service the debt.
It was given power to regulate foreign and interstate commerce
assuring the rich their interests would be served, and much more.
In sum, the document created "was the means by which the
traditional establishment....was re-establishing itself"
leaving out of the mix the interests of the "common man (who)
in point of fact was going to be allowed to remain....common (with)
the Constitution, contrary to political blarney (offering) him
no bonuses for it."
Lundberg titled one sub-section: "Down
with the People." In it, he caught the mood of the delegates
as expressed by Roger Sherman of Connecticut who said "The
people should have as little to do as may be about the government."
Elbridge Gerry then denounced the evils stemming from "the
excess of democracy," and debating delegates drubbed democracy
and "the people" repeatedly. That's how Alexander Hamilton
saw things in his view of "mankind in toto (being) wholly
depraved" disagreeing with Thomas Paine's notion of government
being depraved and people being inherently good. Paine wasn't
a delegate so he had no input into the proceedings and couldn't
argue against the central interest of property as a requirement
for voting and holding office.
Even Jefferson accepted this idea but
hated the word enough to use another expression for it in the
Declaration of Independence he authored. His substitute language
for "property" was "the pursuit of happiness,"
meaning the same thing. While Jefferson abhorred that "word,"
the attending delegates (Madison and Hamilton among them) found
it their "favorite (one), often brought to the fore as a
matter of deepest concern." Also brought up was the "minority,"
but not "any minority or all minorities. It was the minority
of the opulent."
The far-sighted among them foresaw a bonanza
coming from the revolution that came about when the states passed
confiscation acts, putting properties up for sale at bargain prices,
still only affordable to the affluent. It sounds very much like
the way corporate predators planned to pillage and plunder Iraq
and have done a pretty good job of it.
There was also plenty of graft to go around,
again just like in Iraq and at home as well. Lundberg noted "the
other big bonanza of the revolution was the trans-Allegheny domains
in which patriot speculators made and lost fortunes." The
well-off had their eyes on thousands of parcels of land and buildings
wrested from their lawful owners. They also wanted to assure
that never happened to them.
Then there was the ratification process
itself that turned out to be a tussle as soon as the Constitution
was sent to Congress. Lundberg reviewed the arduous give and take
process of compromise that finally got the document passed by
13 states with three others rejecting it.
This was when adopting the Bill of Rights
made the difference. The ones adopted in the first 10 amendments
weren't for "the people," nowhere in sight, but to provide
them to property owners who wanted:
-- prohibitions against quartering troops
in their property,
-- unreasonable searches and seizures
there as well,
-- the right to have state militias protect
-- the right of people to bear arms, but
not the way the 2nd Amendment is today interpreted,
-- the rights of free speech, the press,
religion, assembly and petition, all to serve monied and propertied
interests alone - not "The People,"
-- due process of law with speedy public
-- various other provisions worked out
through compromise to become our acclaimed Bill of Rights. Two
additional amendments were proposed but rejected by the majority.
They would have banned monopolies and standing armies, matters
of great enormity that might have made a huge difference thereafter.
We'll never know for sure.
Lundberg stressed the importance of the
amendments adopted. Without them, the movement for a second convention
likely would have prevailed that might have derailed the whole
process or greatly changed the Constitution's structure. That
possibility had to be avoided at all costs and was by this compromise
that had nothing to do with granting rights to "The People."
Government Free Style
Lundberg destroyed the popular myth of
a government constrained by constitutional checks and balances.
In fact, it can and repeatedly has done anything judged expedient,
with or without popular approval, and within or outside the law
of the land. In this respect, it's no different than most others
able to operate the same way and often do. It's done through
"the narrowest possible interpretations of the Constitution,"
but it's free to "operate further afield under broader or
fanciful official interpretations" with history recording
Many presidents operated this way. Lundberg
noted Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Wilson, T. and F. Roosevelt, Jackson,
could have named Lincoln, and didn't know about Reagan, GHW Bush,
Clinton and, most of all, GW Bush when his book was written.
A key point made is that "government
is completely autonomous, detached, in a realm of its own"
with its "main interest (being) economic (for the privileged)
at all times." In pursuing this aim, "constitutional
shackles and barriers (exist only) in the imaginations of many
people" believing in them. Regardless of law, custom or
anything else, sitting US governments have always been freelancing.
They've been unresponsive to the public interest, uncaring about
the will and needs of the majority, and generally able to finesse
or ignore the law with ease as suits their purpose. As Lundberg
put it: "forget the mirage of government by the people,"
or the rule of law for that matter, with George Bush only being
the most extreme example of how things work in Washington all
the time under all Presidents.
Lundberg went on to explain the Constitution
effectively confers unlimited powers on the government. He cited
Article I, Section 8, Sub-section 18 allotting to Congress power
"to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for
carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers
vested by this Constitution....or any department or officer thereof."
It's up to government, of course, to decide what's "necessary"
and "proper" meaning the sky's the limit under the concept
of sovereignty. The power of government is effectively limited
only "by the boundaries of possibility." Special considerable
powers are then afforded the President, dealt with in a separate
section below, and another on the Supreme Court.
Lundberg explained how the "three
divisions of the American government operate under the immoderately
celebrated system of checks and balances" with the framers
believing too much power in the hands of one person or group of
persons was a potential setup for tyranny. Lundberg believed
the theory was false, used the British model to make his case,
but he never met George Bush who might have given him pause.
In Britain, the legislature and executive
are inextricably linked, a single House of Commons runs the government,
the upper House of Lords is only advisory, the courts can only
apply the law the legislature hands them, all laws passed become
part of the constitution, and new elections are generally called
if a sitting government loses a vote of confidence.
In the British parliamentary system, the
government consists of a committee of the House of Commons called
the Cabinet presided over by a prime minister elected by his party
members. He and all cabinet members are elected members of parliament
(MPs) and can be voted in or out in any general election with
all members standing at the same time. It's a vastly different
and much fairer system overall than the convoluted American model
even though, in theory, a British prime minister has much more
control of the parliament than a US president has over the Congress
with two parties and numerous disparate interests.
In practice, many US presidents get their
way, despite the obstacles, and George Bush gets nearly everything
he wants, takes it when it's not offered, and hardly ever faces
congressional objection. The section below on the power of the
presidency shows how the Constitution makes it so easy to do with
Presidents, like Bush, taking full advantage on top of all the
enormous powers he has under the law.
Britain has another interesting feature
unheard of in Washington that would be refreshing to have. Once
a week, there's a question period when the prime minister and
his cabinet are held to account by the opposition and must answer
truthfully or pretty close to it, at least in theory. Also, theoretically,
a minister is supposed to face certain expulsion if an untruth
stated is learned. In the US, in contrast, Presidents routinely
lie to Congress, the public and maybe themselves to get away with
anything they wish. They face no penalty doing it, under normal
circumstances, with exceptions popping up occasionally like for
Richard Nixon's serious lying and smoking gun evidence to prove
it and Bill Clinton's inconsequential kind that was no one else's
business but his own.
Lundberg then reviewed the labyrinthine
US system the framers devised under the Roman maxim of "divide
and rule" as follows:
-- a powerful (and at times omnipotent)
chief executive at the top;
-- a bicameral Congress with a single
member in the upper chamber able to subvert all others in it through
the power of the filibuster (meaning pirate in Spanish);
-- a committee system ruled mostly by
seniority or a by political powerbroker;
-- delay and circumlocution deliberately
built into the system;
-- a separate judiciary with power to
overrule the Congress and Executive;
-- staggered elections to assure continuity
by preventing too many of the bums being thrown out together;
-- a two-party system with multiple constituencies,
especially vulnerable to corruption and the power of big money
that runs everything today making the whole system farcical, dishonest
and a democracy only in the minds of the deceived and delusional.
This is a system under which Lundberg
characterized the US electorate - left, right and center - as
"the most bamboozled and surprised in the world" and
leaves voters "reduced to the condition of one of Pavlov's
experimental dogs - apathetic, inert, disinterested." It
got Professor J. Allen to say "A system better adapted to
the purpose of the lobbyist could not be devised," and that
remark came long before the current era with things in government
totally out of control leading one to wonder what Lundberg would
say today if he were still living and commenting.
Court Over Constitution
Article III of the Constitution establishes
the Supreme Court saying only: "The judicial power shall
be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as
the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish."
Congress is explicitly empowered to regulate the Court, but, in
fact, the Court "seems to regulate Congress." Lundberg
believed it was to allow those unelected on it to be blamed for
unpopular decisions getting them off the hook. Congress, if it
choose to, has the upper hand, and even Court decisions on various
issues only apply to a specific case leaving broader interpretations
to other rulings if they come.
As for the common notion of "judicial
review," it's unmentioned in the Constitution nor did the
convention authorize it. This concept is derived by deduction
from two separate parts of the Constitution: In Article VI, Section
2 saying the Constitution, laws, and treaties are the "supreme
Law of the Land" and judges are bound by them; then in Article
III, Section 1 saying judicial power applies to all cases implying
judicial review is allowed. Under this interpretation of the
law, appointed judges theoretically "have a power unprecedented
in history - to annul acts of the Congress and President."
Lundberg then reviewed some notable examples
of judicial power, first asserted in the famous Marbury v. Madison
case in 1803. It established the principle of "judicial
supremacy" articulated by Chief Justice John Marshall meaning
the Court is the final arbiter of what is or is not the law.
He set a precedent by voiding an act of Congress and the President.
It put a brake on congressional and presidential powers, theoretically,
but Presidents like George Bush act above the law by ignoring
Congress and the Courts and usurping "unitary executive"
powers claiming the law is what he says it is. He gets away with
it because the other two branches do nothing to stop him.
In 1776 and at the time of the convention,
few in the country believed in judicial review with theoreticians
like Madison and James Wilson zealously opposed to it. They wanted
legislatures and the executive to be the sole judges of their
own constitutional powers. Lundberg then said "Judicial
review....is just one of the usages of the Constitution that sprung
up in the course of jockeying among the divisions, personalities
and factions of government."
Lundberg then reviewed numerous other
notable Court cases, including the shameful Dred Scott decision
when claimant Scott, a slave, sued for his freedom on justifiable
grounds and lost due to the tenor of the times.
A few others were:
-- Fletcher v. Peck in 1810 that stabilized
the law of property rights, especially regarding contracts for
the purchase of land;
-- Dartmouth College v Woodward in 1819
with the Court holding charters of private corporations were contracts
and as such were protected by the contact clause;
-- McCulloch V Maryland also in 1819 with
the Court ruling a state couldn't tax the branch of a bank established
by an act of Congress;
-- Gibbons v. Ogden in 1824 when the Court
upheld the supremacy of the United States over the states in the
regulation of interstate commerce;
-- Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 with the
Court affirming discrimination in public places;
-- a number of cases, including US v.
EC Knight Company in 1895, in which the Court vitiated the Sherman
Anti-Trust Act of 1890 while at the same time keeping "hot
on the trail of labor unions" as conspiracies in restraint
of trade in violation of Sherman in Loewe v. Lawler in 1908;
-- Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific
Railroad in 1886 when Court reporter JC Bancroft Davis wrote what
the Court refused to refute, thereby granting corporations the
legal status of personhood under the 14th Amendment with all rights
and benefits accruing from it but none of the obligations. In
this writer's non-legal judgment, this decision above all others,
adversely changed the course of history most by opening the door
to the kinds of unchecked corporate power and abuses seen today.
It stands as the most far-reaching, abusive and long-standing
of all harmful Court decisions now haunting us.
Lundberg ended this chapter with a section
titled "The Corporate State" citing what's pretty common
knowledge today in the age of George Bush. The US is a corporate-dominated
society run by near-omnipotent figures within and outside government.
They believe in an "individualistic economy," with
the law backing it, based on the inviolate principles of free
private enterprise, with them in charge of everything for their
self-interested gain. In a zero-sum society, it means their benefits
harm the rest of us, and that's pretty much the way things are
today with things far more out of control than when Lundberg wrote
Even so, his comments pre-1980 observed
how giant corporations arose "under the ministering hand
of government officials, especially in the courts (and there emerged)
wealthy dynasties of successful corporate intrepreneurs, insuring
a line of (future) Robber Barons." With the Constitution
forbidding "the granting of titles of nobility," corporate
titans, in fact, had all the "material substance pertaining
to European nobility (making) Money per se....ennobling in the
Gross disparities in income and personal
wealth, far more out of proportion now than three decades ago,
are largely the result of these earlier events with government
and business conspiring to make them possible. Earlier, and especially
now, "successful wealthholders in almost every case had an
omnipotent lever at their service: the government, including Congress,
the courts and the chief executive." The constitutional
story comes down to a question of money and money arrangements
- who gets it, how, why, when, where, what for, and under what
conditions. Also, who the law leaves out.
This story has nothing whatever to do
with guaranteeing, as they say, life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness; establishing justice; upholding the rule of law
equitably for everyone; promoting the general welfare; or securing
the blessings of freedom for the general public unconsidered,
unimportant and ignored by the three branches of government serving
monied and property interests only, of which they are part.
This was how it was when the Constitution
was drafted, it stayed that way through the years, and is written
in stone today with Lundberg concluding "It seems safe to
say (this way of things) will never be rectified." Never
is a long time, hopefully on that count he's wrong, but how insightful
and penetrating he was on the constitutional story he revealed
equisitely so far with more below, beginning with the crucially
important next section. George Bush will love it if someone reads
it to him or this review.
The Veiled Autocrat
Lundberg's dominant theme here is that
the US President is the most powerful political official on earth,
bar none under any other system of government. "The office
he holds is inherently imperial," regardless of the occupant
or how he governs, and the Constitution confers this on him.
Whereas under the British model with the executive as a collectivity,
the US system "is absolutely unique, and dangerously vulnerable
in many ways" with one man in charge fully able to exploit
his position. "The American President," said Lundberg,
stands "midway between a collective executive and an absolute
dictator (and in times of war like now) becomes in fact quite
constitutionally, a full-fledged dictator."
A single sentence, easily passed over
or misunderstood, constitutes the essence of presidential power.
It effectively grants the Executive near-limitless power, only
constrained to the degree he so chooses. It's from Article II,
Section 1 reading: "The executive power shall be vested in
a President of the United States of America. Article II, Section
3 then almost nonchalantly adds: "The President shall take
care that the laws be faithfully executed" without saying
Presidents are virtually empowered to make laws as well as execute
them even though nothing in the Constitution specifically permits
this practice. More on that below.
Lundberg said the proper way to understand
the Constitution is to view it as a "symphony" with
big themes being like separate movements. Theme one in Article
I, Section 1 says "All legislative powers herein granted
shall be vested in a Congress of the United States." Theme
two is the dominant one on the Executive in Article II, Section
1 cited above. The final movement or theme three deals with "The
Lundberg then continued saying "to
understand the inner nature of the United States government (the
key question is) What is executive power? - aware all the time
that it is concentrated in the hands of one man." He also
reviewed how Presidents are elected "literally (by) electoral
(unelected by the public) dummies" in an Electoral College.
The process or scheme is a "long-acknowledged constitutional
anomaly." They can subvert the popular vote, never meet
or consult like the College of Cardinals does in Rome to elect
a Pope, so, in fact, its use is "a farce all the way."
Now to the issue of executive power covered
in Section 2. It's vast and frightening. The President:
-- is commander-in-chief of the military
and in this capacity is completely autonomous in peace and a de
facto dictator in war; although Article I, Section 8 grants only
Congress the right to declare war, the President, in fact, can
do it any time he wishes "without consulting anyone"
and, of course, has done it many times;
-- can grant commutations or pardons except
in cases of impeachment. Nixon resigned remember before near-certain
-- can make treaties that become the law
of the land, with the advice and consent of two-thirds of the
Senate (not ratification as commonly believed); can also terminate
treaties with a mere announcement as George Bush did renouncing
the important ABM Treaty with the former Soviet Union; in addition,
and with no constitutional sanction, he can rule by decree through
executive agreements with foreign governments that in some cases
are momentous ones like those made at Yalta and Potsdam near the
end of WW II. While short of treaties, they then become the law
of the land.
-- can appoint administration officials,
diplomats, federal judges with Senate approval, that's usually
routine, or can fill any vacancy through (Senate) recess appointments;
can also discharge any appointed executive official other than
judges and statutory administrative officials;
-- can veto congressional legislation,
with history showing through the book's publication, they're sustained
96% of the time;
-- while Congress alone has appropriating
authority, only the President has the power to release funds for
spending by the executive branch or not release them;
-- Presidents also have a huge bureaucracy
at their disposal including powerful officials like the Secretaries
of Defense, State, Treasury and Homeland Security and the Attorney
General in charge of the Justice Department;
-- Presidents also command center stage
any time they wish. They can request and get national prime time
television for any purpose with guaranteed extensive post-appearance
coverage promoting his message with nary a disagreement with it
on any issue;
-- throughout history, going back to George
Washington, Presidents have issued Executive Orders (EOs) although
the Constitution "nowhere implicitly or explicitly gives
a President (the) power (to make) new law" by issuing "one-man,
often far-reaching" EOs. However, as Lundberg explained above,
the President has so much power he's virtually able to do whatever
he wishes, the only constraint on him being himself and how he
chooses to govern.
-- George Bush also usurped "Unitary
Executive" power to brazenly and openly declare what this
section makes clear - that the law is what he says it is. He proved
his intent in six and a half years in office by subverting congressional
legislation through his record-breaking number of unconstitutional
"signing statements" - affecting over 1132 law provisions
through 147 separate "statements," more than all previous
Presidents combined. In so doing, he expanded presidential power
even beyond the usual practices recounted above.
-- Presidents are, in fact, empowered
to do almost anything not expressively forbidden in the Constitution,
and very little there is; more importantly, with a little ingenuity
and a lot of license and chutzpah, the President "can make
almost any (constitutional) text mean whatever (he) wants it to
mean" so, in fact, his authority is practically absolute
or plenary. And the Supreme Court supports this notion as an
"inherent power of sovereignty," according to Lundberg.
He explained, if the US has sovereignty, it has all powers therein,
and the President, as the sole executive, can exercise them freely
without constitutional authorization or restraint.
In effect, "the President....is virtually
a sovereign in his own person." Compared to the power of
the President, Congress is mostly "a paper tiger, easily
soothed or repulsed." The courts, as well, can be gotten
around with a little creative exercise of presidential power,
and in the case of George Bush, at times just ignoring their decisions
when they disagree with his. As Lundberg put it: "One should
never under-estimate the power of the President....nor over-estimate
that of the Supreme Court. The supposed system of equitable checks
and balances does not exist in fact (because Congress and the
courts don't effectively use their constitutional authority)....the
separation in the Constitution between legislative and the executive
is wholly artificial."
Further, it's pure myth that the government
is constrained by limited powers. Quite the opposite is true
"which at the point of execution (reside in) one man,"
the President. In addition, "Until the American electorate
creates effective political parties (which it never has done),
Congress....will always be pretty much under (Presidents') thumb(s)."
Under the "American constitutional system (the President)
is very much a de facto king."
Lundberg cited examples such as Franklin
Roosevelt, considered one of the nation's three greatest Presidents
along with Lincoln and Washington. He "waged (illegal) naval
warfare against Germany before Pearl Harbor." During the
war, he stretched his powers to the limit and functioned as a
dictator. Truman atom-bombed Japan twice gratuitously and criminally
with the war over and the Japanese negotiating surrender. He also
went around Congress to wage a war of aggression on North Korea
when its forces attacked the South after repeated US-directed
southern incursions against the North. Lyndon Johnson attacked
North Vietnam February 7, 1965 using the contrived August, 1964
Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as justification even though there was
none. The examples are endless, Presidents take full advantage,
and nearly always get away with it.
The only thing Presidents can't do, in
theory, is openly violate the law. But since he can interpret
it creatively, it's up to Congress and the High Court to hold
him to account, and that rarely happens. Nixon was forced to
resign to avoid impeachment because there was smoking gun evidence
on tape to convict him on top of his being roundly disliked making
it easier to act. But what he did overall wasn't unusual except
that he paid the price for it.
As Lundberg put it, "highhandedness,
unpalatable doings (and) scandals" are part and parcel of
politics from top to bottom in the system at all levels of government.
Jethro Lieberman showed this type behavior "is a steady
occupation at every level of government" in his pre-Watergate
book - "How the Government Breaks the Law." At the
executive level, he showed government proceeds "pretty much
ad libitum outside the stipulated rules at all levels."
In other words, the nation was always infested with Nixons at
all levels, but most got away with their offenses and today that's
truer than ever.
As for impeaching and convicting a President
for malfeasance, Article II, Section 4 states it can only be for
"treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
Based on the historical record, it's near-impossible to do with
no President ever having been removed from office this way, and
only two were impeached, both unjustly.
Lundberg quoted John Adams on this issue
saying he was right believing it would take a national convulsion
to remove a President by impeachment, it hasn't happened up to
now, which is not to say it never will with no President more
deserving of the "distinction" than the current sitting
one who almost makes Richard Nixon look saintly by comparison.
It's long past the time to smash the inviolate notion of presidential
invincibility, and given the growing groundswell, it could happen
against all odds. If it does, it will be a first, and if he were
still living, it would also make Lundberg rethink his final comment
on the subject that it's "virtually impossible to remove
a President (and) His security in office....is but one facet of
his power." Still remember, an exception, when it happens,
only proves the rule, so Lundberg's assessment is still valid.
Presidential power since WW II is also
reinforced by their own private army through the vast US intelligence
apparatus and much more. The CIA is part of it and today functions
mainly as a presidential praetorian guard and global mafia-style
hit squad operating freely outside the law as a powerful rogue
agency backed by an undisclosed budget likely topping $50 billion
annually. And since January, 2003, the Department of Homeland
Security functions as a national Gestapo about as free to do as
it pleases as CIA that also operates outside its mandate on US
soil along with the equally repressive FBI. They mainly target
disaffected political groups and individuals publicly standing
against government policies with enough influence to make a difference.
The Risks in One-Man Rule
Lundberg quoted noted political scientist
Herman Finer (1898 - 1969) again reinforcing what's covered above
that "there is (virtually) no limit to the Chief Executive's
power." In six and a half years in office, George Bush proved
he was right and then some. Finer, even in an earlier less complex
era, portrayed the President as overweighted with responsibilities
while having enough concentrated power in his hands to make irresponsible,
rash or dangerous decisions with potentially immense repercussions.
Finer proposed a way to improve the presidency
by relieving one man of more responsibility than anyone can handle
alone and minimize incompetency or villainy at the same time.
His idea was for a collective and supportive leadership formed
around the President, including a cabinet of 11 Vice-Presidents
elected in combination with the chief executive every four years.
The framers structured the government
to frustrate and confuse the electorate. They did it through
staggered elections to avoid a clearly visible line of authority
as well as maintain a continuity of governance whatever else the
public might prefer. Finer wanted to correct these kinds of faults
in the current system. He also understood that Presidents are
plucked out of almost anywhere because of their perceived electability,
not from their ability to govern effectively in an office enough
to overwhelm anyone no matter how able and dedicated.
His idea was for Presidents and Vice-Presidents
to be required to have served in either house of Congress a minimum
four years to learn how Washington operates that can be quite
different from a state or the military where former generals of
note, like Dwight Eisenhower and others, went on to become very
ordinary or failed Presidents. Only George Washington was the
exception proving the rule, and being a new nation's first President
(governing a population smaller than Chicago today) was quite
different from how things are now.
Finer also wanted the President and his
cabinet to sit in the House of Representatives to make them more
visible and responsible like the British model. His main concern
was that too much responsibility lay with one man, with too much
power to discharge it, and far too often that man turns out to
be incompetent, venal or both. Under the present system, the President
is near-omnipotent, operates in secrecy, is most often the wrong
one chosen, and is able to spring surprises at will, often with
potentially disastrous implications like today under George Bush.
He was also concerned about Presidents
having secret ailments, impediments or becoming seriously ill
enough to be unable to govern yet still be able to retain the
power of the office. Woodrow Wilson was a case in point as he
suffered a severe stroke and paralysis on his left side 17 months
before his second term of office expired. His principle biographer
said he was "either gravely ill (his last year in office)
or severely incapacitated at the time the country needed his leadership
Wilson never should have been allowed
to run at all as it was known seven years earlier he was a bad
health risk. He did it because the information was concealed
from the public even though Wilson himself thought he might die
at any moment, was blind in one eye, suffered episodes of depression,
dyspepsia, colds, headaches, dizziness and feelings of dullness
and numbness in one hand the result of diseased nerves. In short,
he was a physical and emotional basket case running the country
and unable to do it much of the time and not all late in his second
Franklin Roosevelt is another prime example.
At age 39, eleven years before being elected President, he was
stricken with what was thought to be polio and was permanently
paralyzed from the waist down. Yet, he kept his condition secret
and (before the age of television) was never photographed in a
wheelchair in public. In his third term, he was advised not to
run for a fourth time because of his health. He did, of course,
and won, but in 1941 his blood pressure was high and rising, his
heart was enlarged, and he suffered from congestive heart failure
from which he finally expired in April, 1945. By early 1944,
he was in marked decline and a dying man.
With the most calamitous war in history
in its late stages and the power of the chief executive most needed,
Lundberg described FDR as "a burned-out matchstick"
barely able to function. It showed in some of his irrational decisions
at the end. Yet, he was still in charge as commander-in-chief
and the most powerful leader on earth as the war in Europe and
Asia still raged, and he alone was calling the shots.
With future Presidents just as vulnerable
to serious health problems, Lundberg's view was as the presidency
is now structured, "the American people are sitting on a
bomb....likely to explode (unexpectedly) at any moment."
The problem, he said, isn't just about an imperial presidency,
but an "anarchic," "wild-cat" or "Protean"
one under which "anything can happen." Drawing an analogy
to a modern-day corporation, he explained the obvious. No large
publicly-owned corporation would ever operate this way. It would
never put its chips on a single person or "choose its chief
executive (as) nonchalantly as does the United States."
Wilson and Roosevelt weren't the only
Presidents who served in office while experiencing serious illness.
Eisenhower suffered two heart attacks along with other health
problems, and Kennedy "was a walking bundle of ailments"
with much of it concealed. Lyndon Johnson, as well, was in trouble
from the start, suffered a massive heart attack before winning
national office, and (unknown to the public) was never judged
physically or mentally sound while President.
His actions proved it and give pause to
what may be afflicting George Bush, kept secret from the public.
A disastrous six and a half year record conclusively shows this
man is unfit to serve in the nation's highest office or in any
responsible capacity. Because he's there taking full advantage,
all humanity is held hostage to what's coming next at the hands
of a venal, incompetent and possibly mentally unbalanced or deranged
US chief executive.
For all the above-stated reasons along
with the examples just cited, Finer believed the office of the
President was ill-structured and should be drastically changed
for the betterment of the country (and all humanity). As far
as achieving any of what he proposed or any other type broad brush
makeover of the system, Lundberg believed it's near-impossible.
Doing it would involve amending the Constitution and in a wholesale
way. With certain opposition in enough states, there's almost
no chance these type changes can happen.
How did this happen, and were the framers
at fault, Lundberg asks? To some degree, but not entirely. It's
pure fantasy to imagine any group of men, even if they'd been
the most talented and far-sighted, could have met in 1787 to produce
a Constitution, elaborate, detailed and ingenious enough to "anticipate
and provide for every facet and contingency of the nation"
that would eventually encompass 50 states and grow to a diverse
population exceeding 300 million. It was impossible then and
now everywhere. Furthermore, they made the amending process extremely
hard to do even though it was subsequently accomplished 17 times
after the Bill of Rights was added to get the Constitution ratified
in the first place.
At a much simpler time, the framers didn't
understand that governments fundamentally act in their own self-interest
whatever the law says. The Constitution complicates it for them
by consisting of a "set of incomplete prescriptions, ostensibly
frozen in time except as subject to an almost impossible amending
process." So to get around the problem or ignore it, governments
function ad libitum with one man at the top calling the shots
even though this isn't what the framers had in mind.
So all the "patriotic praise....heaped
upon the Constitution in schoolbooks....is simple nonsense, pap."
How well the country is served at any time depends on the pure
luck of the draw to get a really first-rate capable leader as
President. It rarely happens, and Lundberg cites only the three
example of Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt. None of the others
matched them, and far too many were abysmal failures or worse
with one candidate just cited standing out prominently as the
overwhelming choice for the worst and most dangerous ever.
On top of all the other flaws and faults,
"the people" were deliberately and willfully left out
of the process proving "democracy is not recognized in the
Constitution," shocking as that notion is to most people
reading these words. Lundberg had hopes, however, that a future
time would come that would embrace constitutional improvement
on a significant scale. As he put it, this document, "as
it stands, is by no means the system the United States is ultimately
fated to embrace (forever). For there is a great deal of room
for improvement - a great deal" (indeed, and then some).
A Renewed Call for a Second Convention
With the need so much greater now than
30 years ago, in the age of George Bush, it's time we went about
the process Lundberg advocated in the title of this section.
Doing it, however, is infinitely harder than achieving relatively
simpler amendment tinkering here and there, even though Article
V allows for such a procedure. With everything in mind from what's
covered above, it's easy to believe, whatever the Constitution
allows, convening a convention for constitutional change is near-impossible
given the way the country is now run, by whom and most importantly
for whom - the immensely powerful monied interests sitting in
corporate boardrooms running the country, the world and our lives.
They've got everything arranged their
way, it's taken decades to get it, they engineer elections to
get the best "democracy" they can buy, and it always
turns out that way, more or less. The bankers and Wall Street
even own the Federal Reserve giving them the most powerful instrument
of government - the right to print and control the nation's money
supply and charge interest on it. By so doing, the government
(and the public) must pay interest on its own money that wouldn't
happen if it printed its own as Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution
says only the government can do.
It relinquished that power when Woodrow
Wilson betrayed the public by signing the most disastrous piece
of legislation in the nation's history willfully after Congress
passed the Federal Reserve Act in the dead of night December 23,
1913 with many of its members away for the holiday and most others
unaware of what, in fact, they were signing.
Today, with a virtual stranglehold on
state power, in league with Democrat and Republican governments
in their pockets, why would corporate giants ever give up what
took so long for them to get. They never will, Lundberg knew it,
too, and said the chance for real change from a second convention
"is almost nil....if (these pages) have shown anything, (it's
clear as day) the government (backed by the power of money) controls
the Constitution," not the other way around or "the
people" either, left out completely from the start.
Lundberg didn't say it but surely believed
achieving the kinds of democratic changes he wanted would have
to come from the bottom up. Only an aroused public, en masse
and undeterred, fed up with the state of things and committed
can make it happen. Impossible as it seems, history at times surprises,
and if it does this time, it will be the greatest one ever....and
not a moment too soon.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and
can be reached at email@example.com.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com
and listen Saturdays to the Steve Lendman News and Information
Hour on TheMicroEffect.com at noon US central time.