Larry Sabato, the ubiquitous and mild-mannered political prognosticator by day, is a radical constitution-rewriter by night. In his 2008 book, A More Perfect Constitution: Why the Constitution Must Be Revised, Sabato offers a number of pragmatic ideas: The Senate, he says, should be expanded to give more populous states at least a bit more representation, and it should also include “national senators”—all former presidents and vice presidents, maybe others—whose job it is to guard national interests over parochial ones. Sabato’s plan would also double the size of the House (to make representatives closer to the people) and enforces a nonpartisan redistricting process to end gerrymandering. Elections for president, Senate, and House, in Sabato’s vision, are rescheduled to coincide more often, while presidents would serve a single, six-year term (the idea is to make their governing less political, while giving them enough time to implement change).
Regardless of how you feel about Citizens United, something needs to be done about campaign finance. No one thinks lawmakers should spend several hours every day raising money (some estimates say lawmakers spend 25 percent to 50 percent of their time “dialing for dollars”). No one prefers that a tiny fraction of wealthy Americans provide the vast majority of the money needed to supply our democracy with leaders. (Only about one-half of 1 percent of Americans have given more than $200 to a candidate, PAC, or party, while just under 10 percent report donating at all.)
Lawrence Lessig, the iconoclastic professor who is now at Harvard, traces the rise of hyper-partisanship to the emergence of the perpetual campaign and the constant need for money. “Since the end of earmarks, the best way to raise money is to increase partisanship. Look at the shutdown. It cost the economy billions of dollars but raised millions of dollars for both Democrats and Republicans,” he says. At some point, this money chase has to take a psychological toll. How do you spend all morning attacking your opponent and then make a deal with them in the afternoon? Instead, Lessig, along with fellow Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe and many others, proposes a bottom-up form of public financing where voters get a voucher of, say, $50 off their taxes, which they can use to donate to candidates.
Then there’s just basic housekeeping. Any constitutional lawyer can point out the places that need work: How much authority should presidents have in the case of a national emergency? Can they lock up Japanese-Americans, as FDR did? Do individuals have a right to privacy in an age of high-tech snooping by the National Security Agency? How is power really divided between the states and the federal government?