By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Last week, we brought you the story of Iceland crowd sourcing its new Constitution using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to determine what the Icelandic people want to see in their new, all-powerful document.
So we thought we'd experiment in crowd sourcing some amendments to the American Constitution.
That inspired perhaps the strongest reaction that we have ever gotten here at GPS. Thousands and thousands of e-mails, tweets, Facebook messages and posts on our message board.
About one-third of you thought no revision was necessary and some expressed that opinion rather colorfully, to say the least.
Among the other two-thirds, there were some very popular ideas for amendments. Eliminating the Electoral College was probably on top of the list.
Other popular amendments included a ban on corporate donations in elections and a six-year presidential term with no allowance for reelection.
There were some more controversial ideas: a fat tax on unhealthy food, an upper age limit on elected officials, a ban on discrimination of left-handed people. I wasn't aware that that was a big problem. And my personal favorite was "Limit Zakaria to two stupid comments a month," which I suspect is over already.
Anyway, to dig deeper on this, the legalities of amending the Constitution and whether or not it's really feasible, I spoke to Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Senior Legal Analyst.
Here's a transcript of our chat:
Fareed Zakaria: Jeff, we're unusual as a country, we're a very young country, but we have a very old Constitution. Β If you think about it, our Constitution and our political system is older than every European country.
Jeffrey Toobin: We have the oldest written Constitution of any democracy in the world. And it's only been amended 27 times and it stood us in very good stead, but I think, you know, it is not sacrosanct and it is a good idea to think about what shouldn't have been done in the first place and how you can improve it.
The German Constitution is apparently very similar to the American one, but it's sort of more modern and more streamlined. It doesn't have some of the kinks - for example, people point out that the Second Amendment is a grammatical mess, whatever you may think of the right to bear arms.
Nearly incomprehensible as a sentence, yes.
So are there things that constitutional scholars look at and say, "These have been problems for 222 years."
Well, certainly when it comes to the American Constitution, the two biggest controversies have always been in terms of the structure of the document, the Electoral College and the Senate, both of which give powers to states as states as opposed to individuals.
The issue with the Senate, of course, is that you end up giving Wyoming's...
Four hundred thousand people - I just did the math. Wyoming has 400,000 people and two senators and California has 36 million people and two senators. It is hard to justify that.
And the justification for that and for the Electoral College was, as you said, that states as states have some kind of inherent quality that deserves representation. And maybe that was true in the 18th Century, but today, you drive from one state to another and it's very difficult to see why they should have political rights as states.
Right, and particularly small states. Even at the very beginning, the concern was at the time of the framing of the Constitution that New York and Virginia and Massachusetts, which were the big states, would overwhelm the smaller states. It's very hard to see how that applies today, particularly when it comes to the Electoral College.
Now, the argument in favor of the Electoral College, it used to be that it gives small states a certain amount of power. When was the last time you saw a presidential candidate campaign in Wyoming or in Vermont or in Delaware? You know, we decide presidential elections in about four or five states. You know, Ohio, Florida, a few other states in the Midwest, and that's it. All the rest of the states are completely irrelevant, including the small states.
There was no real conceivable way in which that could change?
I think the Electoral College, there is a conceivable way it will change because it really is very hard to justify this crazy system where people in New York, in California, in Texas, are essentially irrelevant throughout all presidential campaigns except as fundraising sources.
It's just the way contemporary American politics is. New York and California are overwhelmingly democratic states. No Republican is going to waste time campaigning there. Texas is a Republican state. So these states are ignored.
And there are millions and millions of voters in these states who get no attention and it really does affect our politics -Β the substance of our politics, as well. For decades, we subsidized ethanol in Iowa because Iowa, where they grow a lot of corn, was such an important presidential state. So this has substantive impact as well as just sort of a political science impact.
Would it be fair to say that our Senate is probably the most unrepresentative upper House of the advanced democracies with the possible exception of Britain's House of Lords?
Well, actually, Britain, ever since Tony Blair is much more representative. Tony Blair got rid of the hereditary peers, whereas we still have this ludicrous disproportion in terms of small states and big states having the same number of senators. So I think we're actually worse than the House of Lords.
And it's interesting. You know, I taught briefly and one of the things I taught was a class on the American Constitution and the debates that came out of the American Constitution, which went on for 200 years to the present. And America is unique in that it is founded not on blood and soil nationalism, but on political ideas and the Constitution is the heart of that, and that's why I think people are so sensitive to the idea of changing it.
People are so sensitive, but - and, you know, no one has greater reverence for it than do - it is worth remembering that in 1787, this wonderful convocation that we celebrate, they also enshrined slavery. And for it took 100 years and a Civil War to get rid of that in the Constitution with the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. And then it took another 100 years for those amendments to mean anything.
In the 1860s, they said black people could vote, but no black people voted until the 1960s when Lyndon Johnson got the Voting Rights Act passed.
So, yes, the Constitution is a wonderful document - but infallible, it never was and it still isn't.