Bottoms Up

This one is best discussed over a drink.

There have been 27 fully ratified Amendments to our Constitution. But only one Amendment (the 21st) repealed an earlier one (the 18th). The 18th Amendment will, of course, be the focus of a future post here. But it’s difficult to say much about the 21st Amendment without that context, especially if you’re only reading Section 1:

The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Even if you didn’t know the numbers going in, you probably now know already what the 18th Amendment was all about: it was the beginning of Prohibition. It’s important to note what that meant: the 18th Amendment did not outlaw owning or consuming alcohol. It outlawed manufacturing, transporting, and selling alcohol. It also had a grace period of one year after ratification by the states. So if you had a stash in 2019 and/or stockpiled before 2020, you could still drink legally for a while, but every sip was that much more precious.

When Prohibition began, most people considered it “a noble experiment”; alcohol has been a source of many problems since the earliest days of civilization. But it didn’t take long for folks to realize Prohibition wasn’t working as intended. Even though alcohol consumption actually decreased dramatically during Prohibition, it didn’t go away, and the worst of its effects were amplified. That was exacerbated by the black market and associated rise of organized crime around it. Eventually it became just as easy to drink as it had been before, even in terms of cost, but now there was rampant gang violence to go with it all, and some of the funds were used to prevent any real enforcement at the local level. Imagine how bad things would have become if it weren’t for Kevin Costner and Sean Connery.

If Section 1 was all there was to the 21st Amendment, there wouldn’t be much more for me to say here. But Sections 2 and 3 are far more interesting. Here is Section 2:

The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

There had been a great deal of work far before Prohibition to restrict the use of alcohol at the local or regional level. Much of what led to the 18th Amendment in the first place was in fact a grass roots movement of sorts. So while the 21st Amendment removed blanket restrictions in the country, it left the door open for the states to handle things as they saw fit. And so many of them did, effectively doing what they could to remain “dry”. I don’t know about you, but I often think of Utah when I hear the phrase, “dry state”. But Utah was in fact the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, which at the time was enough to put it over the top (Alaska and Hawaii had not yet become states yet, so 36 was the “three quarters” threshold).

The last dry state was Mississippi, which finally threw up its hands (one of them presumably holding a beer) in 1966, although the state never ratified the 21st Amendment. To date, only 38 states have ratified it. Most of the others took no action on it. Including, unbelievably, Louisiana. If you’ve ever been on Bourbon Street at any time of day and year, you know how ridiculous that is.

Section 3 of the 21st Amendment is interesting in its own way:

This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

Here, as with the 22nd Amendment, Congress put a time limit on how long it could take for full ratification by the states. But even more interesting is the specification that it be ratified by state conventions, and not by state legislatures. Article V of the original Constitution left the door open for such an approach. In fact, the original Constitution itself was ratified by state conventions. For the 21st Amendment, the framers were concerned that the still powerful lobby behind the 18th Amendment would keep state legislators from publicly declaring their support to repeal it. Using conventions instead freed the legislators from facing that choice. As a result, after the 21st Amendment was passed in February of 1933, it was fully ratified by that December.

Ok, now I think there really isn’t much more for me to say here.

Except,… cheers!

Pretty sure nobody knows my name in this place. And that’s ok.

Of Mallards and Monarchs

In 1940, something happened that had not happened before in the history of the United States. A President pursued and secured a third consecutive term in office. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was that man, and the rationale was that we needed continuity of leadership during World War II. Roosevelt’s specifically stated goal was to avoid entry into the war, but of course we all know how that turned in December of 1941. Winston Churchill’s tenure was similarly extended across the pond, for similar reasons.

Our very first President, George Washington, set the precedent of retiring after his second term. That precedent was followed for a remarkably long time without requiring an Amendment to the Constitution. But after World War II and Roosevelt’s death in office, the Republican Party pushed hard on the 22nd Amendment, passing it in 1947. It was ratified by two thirds of the states in 1951, with a grandfather clause for President Harry Truman, who opted not to run for a third term anyway. Here is the text of the 22nd Amendment (Section 1):

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once. But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this Article was proposed by Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.

So, the convention that was mostly followed before Roosevelt became law, and now every President who wins a second term is officially a “lame duck”. Ducks don’t walk that impressively to begin with, so to be a lame one is decidedly embarrassing.

An interesting twist to the 22nd Amendment is in Section 2:

This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission to the States by the Congress.

In other words, Congress set a timer on whether this one would go into effect. We put a limit on how long we would be willing to consider putting a limit on something.

The 22nd Amendment attempts to strike a delicate balance. Allowing just one term would make the President a duck from the inauguration onward. Allowing a President more than two terms, as became a fear during the Roosevelt presidency, begins to look more like a monarch, which is what we initially ran from when we became a nation.

I have pretty strong feelings about the concept of reelection. I believe it adds motivation to do things that aren’t in the best interest of the country, so that one may remain in power for a bit longer. I also believe that applies at all levels of government. The argument against that, of course, is what if you get someone in there who really is good. But I would argue that we’d eliminate a lot of people who really aren’t good from the process if we made it impossible for them to stay in power for more than one term. Suddenly you have two, four, or six years to do your best, and then you’re done, for good. I believe we would find in such a world that there are a lot more really good leaders out there, and each of them would get their fair turn to advance the greater good. We as voters then might also stop tying our allegiances to individuals instead of ideas.

Counter to that view, there have been a number of attempts to repeal the 22nd Amendment, and some Presidents have stated wishes along those lines, including most recently Barack Obama. But if eight years isn’t enough time to get the job done, why would twelve or sixteen be the magic number? One might even expect the opposition to the President’s agenda to grow with the length of his or her term anyway.

So yes, you’re reading me right: I think the 22nd Amendment was a good first step, but it didn’t go far enough, either in scope or in severity. Unleash the ducks!

Quack, quack.

Take me to your leader

Tyranny Inside the Beltway

How is that for click-bait? Guess what – this post isn’t about any particular person in our nation’s capital. This post is about our nation’s capital itself. Ever since the District of Columbia was created, its residents have held fewer voting rights and less representation than those in any of the states. Even the 23rd Amendment didn’t completely fix that problem.

But before we delve into that, let’s talk about something far more astonishing: this is the tenth post to emerge from The Parallax Machine. Nine posts ago, I never imagined I would be arriving at this moment. If you had suggested such an outrageous thought, I would have laughed heartily and mussed up your hair. Yet here we are, and there’s a real possibility there will be ten more posts. I’ll give you a moment of silence to let that sink in.

Wow. Ten posts.

Ok, back to the 23rd Amendment. If you’ve been in the DC area recently, you may have noticed the locals’ license plates, many of which bear the phrase, “Taxation Without Representation”. That phrase dates all the way back to the days leading up to the American Revolution (although it was originally coined by the Irish). The most famous use of the phrase was by a Boston politician named James Otis, who proclaimed, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” This was of course aimed across the pond at King George, who kept coming up with new ways to tax the colonists without giving them any say in their government. One thing led to another, Tea Party, Declaration, war, victory, yadda yadda yadda.

A few years later, some soldiers who hadn’t been paid protested at the Continental Congress and effectively held the Government hostage for a brief moment in time. It didn’t get as ugly as it could have, but the early leaders of our Government decided they needed to have full jurisdiction over the region in which they were situated (not just to avoid future such incidents, but also to avoid giving one state more apparent power by hosting the nation’s capital). So they wrote the concept of a District for the nation’s capital into the Constitution itself. One thing led to another, and boom, District of Columbia. Congress moved in at the beginning of 1800 and officially created the District in 1801. As soon as the District exited any particular state, it lost the right to vote, to be represented, and to ratify any changes to the Constitution. Protests were immediate, and a few folks did mention, “Hey, wasn’t this what we didn’t like about King George?”

Different ways of governing DC were tried over the ensuing decades, but none of them really solved the representation problem. It took all the way until 1961 before an attempt was made, and that attempt became the 23rd Amendment:

The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as Congress may direct:

A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.

Excellent. Residents of DC were now allowed to vote for the President and Vice President. But…

DC can never have more electoral votes than any given state – granted, it’s basically one city, but it does have more people than Wyoming and Vermont. DC has a single delegate to the House of Representatives, but that delegate can only vote on procedural matters and in committees, and not on bills brought to the House floor. DC has no representation in the Senate. And residents of DC are still required to pay federal taxes just like residents of any state. To sum up, DC residents are fully taxed without full representation. Tyranny inside the beltway. Long live the King!

I lived in the DC area for a few years (although not in DC itself), and I often travel there for business. Just walking around town, you’re not going to hear too many conversations about taxation without representation, even though scores of cars will drive by with that phrase on their plates. But I have to imagine whenever there is an important vote in Congress, more than a few DC residents bristle at their inability to have any real impact. Then again, I do the same thing in Colorado. Frankly, these days, it’s not entirely clear how many of us are truly being represented.

Meanwhile, DC does have a bunch of free museums.

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