Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Constitution 2.0

Around the time of my last blog post, over two months ago, I had a remarkable email correspondence with two friends, which started me on an inner political journey that led to a vision of America reborn. To realize that vision, we can keep the Preamble and the Bill of Rights, but everything else in the Constitution needs an upgrade.

Both of my email correspondents are (like me) boomer generation and lifelong progressive activists. But unlike me, they are both women. They also share the characteristic (perhaps not that unusual in the internet age) that I’ve never met either of them face-to-face.

Our conversation began around the subject of 9/11 truth, and how a strategy for the truth movement could be expanded to address a more comprehensive agenda, and become a larger movement for social and political transformation in the US (as I wrote about in my recent essay, “9/11 truth force”). It concluded about a week later with the consensus, arrived at independently by both friends, that the political change America really needs is impossible under the current circumstances. Only an extreme national crisis will break the media spell that still holds most Americans in thrall, and make change possible.

I was somewhat surprised how similar my friends’ opinions were. But since they mirrored my own—especially about, as one friend put it, the “hidden backroom corporate control that’s taken over the world”—I wasn’t really that surprised. It’s an opinion found all over the blogs, and out in the Zeitgeist. Where I disagreed with my friends was in the appropriate course of action. I wondered if this difference might be a gender thing.

Answering my rhetorical question about how to shovel frogs into a wheelbarrow, they both spoke eloquently about the difficulties of organizing, both at the national and local levels, in a culture as fragmented as America. Their stories sounded quite familiar, suggesting that there is a national core of activists with similar experience and outlook. And both my friends have taken the same path, in light of the circumstances—choosing to work on the issues that mean most to them until the world, of necessity and its own accord, changes.

When one of them expressed some frustration about finding outlets for her writing, I suggested she start a blog. Her reply echoed a feeling I’ve long had about the internet. She said there are already “enough activists talking to each other.” The problem is breaking through to the majority of Americans who still get most of their news from the propaganda arm of the military-industrial complex, the corporate media. She doesn’t find blogging “useful.”

Although there are many arguments to the contrary, on one level she is right, as I myself have previously written. There is already more information (and certainly more opinions) on the web than any one person could possibly read, and is all the information we need to move the country in a progressive direction. What is lacking is a concentrated action component, beyond single-issue and electoral politics, to create that movement. And here is where I disagreed with my friends, and why it might be a gender thing.

Whereas they—with an entirely logical view of the relative hopelessness of the new age of “hope,” the fragmented character of 21st century American consciousness, and the thankless difficulty of grassroots organizing—think we need to wait for a national crisis for the American people to awake, I (in my male way) think that we should already be about the business of creating the butterfly that will emerge (hopefully) when the national cocoon splits open. We should be building a grassroots progressive infrastructure that gives people something to turn to when the top-heavy political and economic institutions collapse, and America needs to rebuild a more decentralized government, and is looking for guidance to chart the future.

My immediate fear is that “the crisis,” in the form of gradual economic implosion, is already upon us. Yet we present no real progressive alternative for people to rally around. If the “liberal” Obama fails, to whom will average Americans turn? This could easily be a recipe for fascism—real fascism, not the smiley-faced kind we have now—coming soon from a tea party near you.

The email conversation presented me with a dilemma. From the very first article I wrote for the internet over five years ago, I have been discussing strategies for organizing a national progressive movement, and the need to rebuild American government from the ground up. For the last seven years, I’ve been part of a nonpartisan and non-ideological local movement here in Hampshire County, West Virginia, to rebuild and decentralize our own county government (a movement recently stopped in its tracks by an Orwellian ruling from a corrupt WV Supreme Court), and writing about that.

It seemed my friend was right. From my experience, what use was blogging?

Around the time of my email conference, I had a lot of extra work around the farm, and my 60th birthday was coming up, so I decided to take a break from the blog and think about why I should continue this seemingly fruitless effort, beyond entertaining my friends, indulging my ego, and contributing yet another offbeat frequency to the white noise of near-infinite cyberspace. Mostly though, I wanted to figure out why there is no national movement (outside some fringe websites and the Green Party) thinking about creating a post-imperial American government, to take the place of our long-lost republic when the Empire finally, inevitably (and perhaps soon) collapses. How could I help to make that happen? What more could I say or do?

A big part of the political problem is Barack Obama. Although a number of my more mainstream liberal friends still want to give him a chance, I think I’ve seen enough. I still admire his many gifts, and totally recognize the difference between a Democratic and a Republican president in how they can affect issues I believe in. I also agree with Glenn Greenwald that the release of the CIA torture memos was an act of courage, and another example of Obama’s strategic brilliance—he had to know that the memos themselves would generate their own momentum. But mostly due to the diminished power of the modern American president (whose sole function in post-democratic America is serving as the mouthpiece-in-chief of the military industrial complex and its corporate sponsors), and his own too cautious and deceptive nature (or is that realism?), I think Barack Obama is personally incapable of delivering a change that I can truly believe in.

It’s not entirely his fault. Because I have lost my faith in this American government, no individual man or woman could ever bring it back—however much “hope” they offer.

But let’s face it: looking at the poll numbers at this point, most Americans—and most progressives—want Obama to succeed. And more importantly, they accept that the paradigm that the corporate media creates is the proper one in which to measure “success.” Most Americans and most progressives believe in their hearts that the Constitution still works, and that the American government is still legitimate. They don’t recognize that six decades of the national security state have turned their beloved Constitution into a piece of trash—“a goddamned piece of paper,” as George W. Bush is reported to have described it. And Obama isn’t treating it much better.

American democracy truly died when the national security establishment murdered John F. Kennedy. And until more people start admitting that to themselves, and wake up from their media-induced hypnosis, we will be trapped in our ever-present downward spiral of Wall Street thievery, environmental destruction, media brainwashing, rampant militarism and random planetary violence, all legitimized by our nostalgic faith in a no longer functioning document.

No matter what single-issue progressive battles we may win, the fact is, we have already lost the war. Real democracy is gone, and won’t ever be recovered on the federal level. Washington is occupied territory, swarming with the enemies of the people.

I enjoyed my break from the blog. The spare time that I usually spend researching and writing, I used instead to practice music and yoga, two other activities I’ve done most of my life that I find just as fulfilling, and that enriched the time around my birthday with the renewed (and comforting) realization that you never reach the end of learning, especially about the cosmic architecture of the human body. But I continued to ponder the question of how to change the American government like a Zen koan.

Towards the end of March, I learned that Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst turned progressive hero, was going to be speaking at Shepherd University, a little over an hour from here, on the subject of holding the Bush administration accountable for torture. I’ve admired him since he first entered the progressive universe some years ago, and since his subject was a perfect illustration of the government’s dysfunction, I decided to go and put my question to him. Figuring it likely that I’d only get one chance to ask, I spent the week formulating the question in my mind.

When I arrived at the lecture hall, I was greeted by a couple of members of the local chapter of Amnesty International, co-sponsors of McGovern’s appearance, who were passing out index cards on which to write questions he would answer after his talk. This was disappointing, because I had to skip some of the nuances in my question, and the prologue, in order to fit it on the card. Here’s (approximately) what I wrote:

“The issue of not holding American officials responsible for the crime of torture is, like single-payer health care or, here in West Virginia, mountaintop removal, a symptom of a deeper problem—the failure of democracy. Here again, the will of the majority [this was before the recent CBS and ABC polls showing 6 in 10 don’t want torture investigated] is thwarted by a corrupt and dysfunctional government. Isn’t it time for the American government to be replaced? Is a Constitution written for a pre-industrial society of 3 million citizens adequate to govern a post-industrial society of 300 million?”

After returning the question to the Amnesty people (and making sure they could read my handwriting), I went to use the restroom. When I washed my hands, I recognized the guy who was using the sink area to sort out papers. It was Ray McGovern.

If I’d had my wits about me, I would have asked him if this was the best the university could do for a Green Room; but instead, I just kidded him about his last-minute preparations for the talk. He smiled and introduced himself, and I introduced myself, and just to make conversation, I told him I was sorry I didn’t have space on the card for the prologue to my question, and he said, “Well, why don’t you just give it to me now?”

So I said, “Okay, here it is: besides our gray hair, you and I have several other things in common. We’re both veterans; we both worked for the CIA; and we both want a new investigation of 9/11. The latter two characteristics we share with former CIA agent Robert Baer.” With a broadening smile, he nodded and said, “Yes, yes,” when I came to the part about Baer, and then I gave him a thumbnail version of my question, which seemed to intrigue him. He said he’d give it some thought, and would answer after the talk. We chatted briefly (though I never got around to telling him that my job at the CIA was as a part-time, low-level clerk and manual laborer while I was in high school) and then I excused myself to go get a seat.

It was easy to see why McGovern was a popular briefer at the CIA. He has an Irish storyteller’s flair, and a kind of leprechaun persona that allows him to mimic the identities of the subjects of his stories and jokes. At the same time, his argument was well organized (and laid out in his recent articles on torture) and he was able to convey the serious nature of the crimes and the depth of his own outrage. He also possesses a spiritual calm and sense of compassion I’ve seen before in those who have, in whatever form, seen “the light.”

The audience of about 100 people was about two-thirds students, and one-third baby boomer progressives. After the talk, most of the students, who’d been assigned the lecture, got up and left, leaving us old folks to hang around for the questions. Mine came up about third. He stumbled a few times on the barely legible handwriting. When he came to the end, he said, “This is a good question.”

I wish I had been taking notes, because I don’t want to mischaracterize his answer. But he essentially said that, even though he has serious problems with the way the government currently operates, he won’t give up on the Constitution. Like many liberals and progressives, he sees the Constitution as our only protection against the wealthy and powerful, the last refuge of the rule of law and people power against the corporate state.

In all honesty, I wasn’t surprised at his answer—because it is the mainstream progressive consensus. Most of those who have publicly challenged the Bush administration’s practice of torture have done so in defense of both international law and the US Constitution. And there is a very legitimate concern among progressives that opening up the Constitution to changes at this time, especially in an Article V Convention, will only open a Pandora’s Box of corporate-friendly delegates stripping away what few protections individual liberty and the public good have left—a concern I wholeheartedly share.

I was more interested in how he answered a couple other questions. When asked, “Was 9/11 an inside job?” he went on at great length in defense of the 9/11 truth movement, and several times emphasized the importance of a new investigation. He was vague about his own view of what happened on 9/11, except to say that he doesn’t go as far as David Ray Griffin, with whose work he seemed quite familiar. (Wanting to avoid the stereotype of the irrational truther, I resisted the urge to call out, “What about the physical evidence?” A week later, the peer-reviewed Open Chemical Physics Journal published an article conclusively proving the existence of a high-tech military-grade nanothermite explosive in the dust of the World Trade Center. I regret my reluctance to speak.)

McGovern’s other answer that interested me came in response to an audience member who expressed his doubt that there would be any meaningful prosecution of the torture perpetrators. McGovern grimly replied that he shared the questioner’s doubts—which struck me as ironic confirmation of my question’s premise of constitutional dysfunction.

When the talk was over, I told him I was disappointed in his answer, because I think the Constitution has, unfortunately, failed. We agreed to disagree. I recommended, in support of my opinion, that he read the book I was carrying, “Democracy, Inc.: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.”

Author Sheldon Wolin, a political science professor emeritus at Princeton, attributes American-style totalitarianism to a “schizoid condition” in the American public, found, for example, in the now-rebranded Global War on Terror, “a war without mobilization, a war where the citizenry is a potential target but not a participant.” The public’s schizoid condition, he continues, “…is strangely reproduced in domestic political matters. While the war on terrorism induces feelings of helplessness and a natural tendency to look toward the government, to trust it, the domestic message of distrust of government produces alienation from government. The people are not transformed into a manipulable mass shouting “Sieg Heil.” Instead they are discouraged, inclined to abdicate a political role, yet paradoxically trusting of their ‘wartime’ leaders.

“The domestic message says that the citizenry should distrust its own elected government, thereby denying themselves the very instrument that democracy is supposed to make available to them. A democracy that is persuaded to distrust itself, that applauds the rhetoric of ‘get government off your backs,’ ‘it’s your money being wasted,’ and ‘you should decide how to spend it,’ renounces the means of its own efficacy in favor of a laissez-faire politics, an antiegalitarian politics, where, as in the market, the stronger powers prevail. What is revealed or, rather, confirmed is that the consummated union of corporate power and governmental power heralds the American version of a total system.”

Fascism: the union of state and corporate power. That is, our present de facto system of government: a corporately “managed” democracy. Not the real thing.

McGovern said he’d check out the book. And speaking of books, I thanked him for recommending (in his recent article, “Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President”) the book, “JFK and the Unspeakable,” by Jim Douglas, which I’d been intending to read for months. He asked, “Have you read it?” I said, “Not yet, but I mean to” (I finished it last week), and he vigorously encouraged me to read it. Since the central thesis of the book is the CIA’s role as assassin—on behalf of the national security state—in Kennedy’s murder, I took it as a serious recommendation coming from a patriotic CIA veteran like McGovern. But again, I was struck by the irony—he knows that Dallas was the coup d’etat that turned the Constitution into a moot point.

While looking over my library last week, I came across my autographed copy of “Shadows of Hope: A Freethinker’s Guide to Politics in the Time of Clinton,” by Sam Smith, the lifelong editor and publisher of The Progressive Review. The inscription reads, “We’ll miss you but know you’ll keep the faith.” Sam and I had been working together for a few years in the early ’90s on local drug policy reform in DC, and I was getting ready to move to West Virginia.

I agreed with Sam politically on pretty much everything but Bill Clinton.

Our allies from the national drug policy reform movement were telling us in meetings that the Clinton campaign people were advising them to keep quiet during the campaign, and after the election they could work together on reform (which, of course, turned out to be a blatant lie). I was convinced at that time that Clinton was a closet progressive (sound familiar?). But Sam was infinitely more skeptical, seeing Clinton as just another corporate tool. As we all know now, Sam turned out to be right—just as he’s been right about Obama.

When I noticed “Shadows of Hope” on the bookshelf, I had a small epiphany about how the Democrats have substituted “hope” for genuine populism in their presidential campaigns—Clinton as much as Obama. “Hope” is all they have to offer, really, because—as we now know, after the first hundred days of Obama—they are proscribed by circumstances from ever offering any real “change.”

At this point, I’d like to confess that I may have something to do with the Democrats’ marketing of “hope.” What I’m about to tell you has never appeared in print before, although I told a few friends about it at the time (I don’t remember if I ever told Sam). But here’s the story:

After Clinton was nominated in August 1992, there were a lot of articles in the media about how open the Clinton campaign was to ideas from the grassroots. So I decided to contribute an idea. Then-president George Bush (it’s like a nightmare that never goes away, isn’t it?) was running for re-election on his foreign policy credentials, especially his Gulf War victory and the collapse of the Soviet Union. I wrote a memo that I delivered to Frank Greer, who was advising Clinton, by dropping it off with the receptionist at Greer’s office off Pennsylvania Avenue. The memo suggested that Al Gore (who, as a senator, had more foreign policy chops than the governor of Arkansas) start questioning Bush’s “success,” especially in light of the corruption that was emerging in Russia, and Saddam Hussein’s unimpeded slaughter of the Shiites in southern Iraq at the end of the Gulf War.

The last paragraph of the memo begins: “This is a campaign of hope against fear…”

Since I was a known radical around DC at the time, I told Greer in my cover letter that it would probably be better if I stayed anonymous. So I wasn’t surprised that I never heard from him. But the weekend after I dropped off the memo, both the Washington Post and the New York Times mentioned that Clinton’s stump speech had a “new ending,” featuring the phrase, “hope against fear”—which, as I recall, the Times even used as a pull quote. The campaign had changed other language in my sentence, but kept the rhetorical triplet construction. And shortly thereafter, Gore started getting more aggressive about Bush’s foreign policy.

Pleased with my success, I sent the campaign another, shorter memo about a month later, via the same route, with some tactical suggestions. They appeared to implement just about everything I suggested, but I still never heard back from anybody, which was fine with me. My band played at the Montgomery County MD Democrats’ Clinton Inaugural Ball—probably my greatest moment of happiness with our “two-party” political system.

There are a couple of reasons, besides the remarkable synchronicity, that I think I may have contributed the phrase “hope against fear” to Clinton’s stump speech (and almost two decades later, Obama still uses the same phrase). The first is that the natural opposite of “hope” is “despair,” not “fear.” It’s not that you don’t see “hope” and “fear” rhetorically paired (especially since 1992), but it was theretofore a relatively unusual juxtaposition of terms, and suspiciously coincidental that Clinton started using it just a few days after I sent the memo.

The second reason is more subjective: it’s one of the odder patterns in my life that I have been the sometimes anonymous contributor of memes to public consciousness. This incident fits that pattern. For example, the slogan, “The war on drugs is a war on people,” is the title I gave to a pamphlet I wrote in 1989 for the National Pledge of Resistance, who distributed it widely. I still hear that expression verbatim on the radio from the mouth of an occasional talkshow caller. The first use of the slogan “No blood for oil” in the Gulf War that I am aware of (it had been used in an earlier Middle East crisis), was to accompany my cover art for the September 1990 Washington Peace Letter (a drawing of leaking oil barrels emblazoned with a skull and crossbones) which was reproduced on a button distributed nationally by progressive propagandists Donnelly Colt. (I actually wanted the button’s caption to be a question, “Blood or oil?” But I was wisely overruled by the ever-militant Lisa Fithian, a brilliant woman who was then coordinator of the Washington Peace Center, and who later went on to national renown as a strategist for Justice for Janitors. She insisted on “No blood for oil.”)

Additionally, it seems to me that out-of-the-mainstream theorizing became ever-so-slightly more respectable when my first internet article, “Paranoid shift,” was republished at the top of Tikkun’s homepage, under the headline, “George Bush’s conspiracy.” The term “Charlie Brown Democrats” gained popularity after it appeared in my 2004 essay, “21st Century American Revolution.” And more recently, the theory advanced in my article, “Obama and 9/11”—that Obama’s personal awareness that the CIA killed Jack Kennedy colors his presidential decision-making—has already become conventional wisdom at a number of blogs.

Yet for all the small influence I’ve been able to exercise (for what it’s worth) with my writing and meme-planting, I have been frustrated in the extreme that no one seems to have taken up my call for a new Constitution—a persistent theme in my essays over the past decade. This leads me to the sad conclusion that I just haven’t made the case. And neither, apparently, has anyone else.

I can only conclude that a subject of this magnitude requires a book-length treatment to be considered seriously—perhaps the book that I have started and abandoned (for various reasons, none particularly good) so many times over the years, about why we need a new Constitution, and how we get there.

Accordingly, I’ve decided, for the immediate future, to quit writing the blog on a regular basis, in order to put my writing time and energy into finally finishing that book, and making the case I think needs to be made. I may pop up at the blog on occasion, when I’m feeling particularly outraged, or need to express a sense of impending peril. But for the next six months, at least, I’ll be working on organizing my collected thoughts and research on the subject of a new Constitution into a readable book form.

So why do we need a new Constitution?

If the generation of Americans who formed our Constitution were transported through time to the early 21st century, Federalist and Antifederalist alike would be horrified at the government their work had wrought.

Instead of a federation of independent states, where power arises from local political machines, and political independence is based on the economic independence of citizens, ninety percent of whom are self-employed farmers, merchants and artisans (as they were in 1790), the founding generation would see a massively centralized federal empire, its standing armies spread across the globe—a government with little decent respect for the opinions of humankind; a government where power flows from the top and every president is, as Bob Woodward says, “surrounded by a phalanx of CEOs,” and where ninety percent of American citizens toil in debt slavery for corporate masters, to slake the greed of the power elite.

Even the Antifederalists would be shocked at how their warnings about the evils of centralized power have been so fully realized.

They would see a government presently scrambling to rescue the preceding administration from answering to the rule of law and to the precepts of the Constitution and international treaties, the sovereign law of the land. A government continuing the Bush Doctrine of military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and including in its cabinet a held-over Secretary of Defense who has served as a Bush family operative in many intelligence and defense capacities over the years, including as CIA director. A government answering to the same finance, energy and defense interests that every administration since JFK has loyally served. A government that, in all ways, unites corporate and state interests.

The founding generation would be hard pressed to explain how their intricate system of checks and balances could be so easily packaged and sold off to the highest bidder. They’d be scratching their heads over a judiciary branch that entertains the absurdity that a corporation—a dangerous entity that needs strict control (Thomas Jefferson wanted a constitutional amendment to that effect)—should have the same rights as a “person;” or that the Bill of Rights has so little relevance to post-9/11 America. They’d be flummoxed that the government has expanded in such a way that the legislative branch would include a Senate where a minority of the US population would control a majority of the votes, and a Representative would have more than 22 times the number of constituents stipulated in Article I (30,000, because the Framers thought 40,000 was too many). In other words, every citizen has less than 5 percent of the representation in Congress the Framers intended.

The nation’s founders would be most disturbed, however, by the change in character of the executive branch, and by the imperial nature of the 21st-century presidency. A president who has assumed legislative power, in the declaration of pre-emptive wars—where the intelligence has been “fixed” to suit the policy—and judicial power, in affixing “signing statements” that give the executive’s interpretation of law priority (“If the president does it, it’s legal.”), resembles more the tyrants whose dictatorial power the Framers feared, than the president they modeled on the relatively modest George Washington. They’d be most astonished to hear that two sociopaths, who share the characteristic common to all serial killers of a history of ruthless cruelty to animals, had occupied the offices of president and vice president of the United States.

On the other hand, it is not surprising that the financial descendants of the colonial aristocracy who wrote the Constitution should have spent the past two centuries consolidating their wealth and power, and frustrating the promise—widely held throughout early America, as Alexis de Tocqueville discovered—that political equality would eventually yield, as a natural consequence, economic equality.

In “Democracy, Inc.”, Sheldon Wolin gets to the root of why popular movements for reform in America are so often frustrated, even with a sympathetic president. He traces it to a strain of elitism inherent in the very notion of “republican” government (echoed today in the right wing talking point that “America is a republic, not a democracy”). Wolin follows the intellectual development of “republicanism” from Machiavelli, who never argued “in defense of popular participation, much less of democratization of politics,” but nevertheless “favored the people [rather than aristocrats] as a reliable ‘foundation’ for power principally because they did not demand much,” to the 17th-century English civil wars, where “advocates of republicanism proposed a blend of Machiavellian competence with Puritan notions of an ‘elect’ to produce a new variant of elitism.” It was this elite concept of republicanism that migrated to the New World and, Wolin says, “dominated” the formation of the American republic.

“With the possible (and ambivalent) exception of Jefferson,” he writes, “the American republicans were steadfast critics of democracy. When they decided that it was time to draft a new constitution, they treated as axiomatic that a modern political system had to make concessions to democratic sentiments without conceding governance to ‘the people.’ Accordingly they composed a masterful translation of republicanism that drew a line indicating what was to be allowed and what excluded from the democratic aspirations aroused by the struggle for independence from Britain.

“While they recognized the ‘people’ as a political presence, they proceeded to dilute the potential of democratic power by constraints intended to filter out any grand schemes. An elaborate system of checks and balances, separation of powers, an Electoral College to select the president, and, later, judicial review were designed to make it next to impossible for popular majorities to institute policies actually in the interests of the majority…The framers of the Constitution were the first founders of modern managed democracy.”

The reason corporations have taken over the people’s government? It’s in our national DNA.

There have been brief flurries of popular democracy throughout American history—the Jackson era, the Populists and Progressives, the New Deal, the Sixties—but the steady trend has been the concentration of wealth and power. As historian Michael Lind has observed, Progressives made a devil’s bargain a century ago when they agreed to the growth of the federal government as a check on Big Business, rather than checking the power of corporations at that early stage by more strictly regulating monopolies. Twentieth-century American history is thus a story of continuing centralization of power, and the rise of what sociologist C. Wright Mills called “the power elite”—the omega to the Framer’s alpha. The counter-revolution. The overseers of the present American empire, the fallen republic turned “managed democracy.”

In response, it is our duty, as citizens, to move onto the next phase of democratic evolution, and exercise the franchise opened to us in the Declaration of Independence, and change our government.

We have been left the means to get there, in Article V of the Constitution. But unfortunately, there’s a hitch, as Wolin notes further into his discussion of the nation’s founders: “The republicans assembled at Philadelphia demonstrated their grasp of how, in a popular government, the electoral system could be stacked so as to prevent its being used to promote a populist agenda, and nowhere more clearly than in the provision governing the most crucial power a democracy can have, the power to change its constitution. Article V stipulated that an extraordinary majority was required for constitutional amendments: a two-thirds vote of both houses and ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures or by three-fourths of special state conventions. That naked empowering of minorities amounted to a subversion of the Constitution’s grandly democratic preamble, “We, the People of the United States…do ordain and establish this Constitution.”

Changing the Constitution is obviously an enormous challenge. Yet I can’t think of another time in my fairly long life when there has been such a palpable yearning among the public, across the political spectrum, for some kind of political breakthrough that will rescue the American people from the seemingly inevitable and unconquerable tyranny of corporate power. But although serious people like William Greider and David Korten are talking about restructuring the economy, I don’t see anyone in the progressive arena (at least on my radar screen) talking about restructuring the government in a fundamental way. It’s a discussion that needs to happen, and soon.

So what would a restructured American government look like? I think there has been a progressive consensus about that for quite some time. There are a lot of ideas in Sam Smith’s book, “Shadows of Hope.” The central argument that Sam and other progressives have been making for decades is that governmental power should be decentralized, and both politics and economics should be more locally based. In one final theft from Sheldon Wolin, let me quote what he says in his concluding chapter:

“Democratic political consciousness…is most likely to be nurtured in local, small-scale settings, where both the negative consequences of political powerlessness and the positive possibilities of political involvement seem most evident. Further, a vital local democracy can help to bridge the inevitable distance between representative government and its constituencies. There is a genuinely valuable contribution which democracy can make to national politics, but it is dependent on a politics that is rooted locally, experienced daily, and practiced regularly, not just mobilized spasmodically.”

A new Constitution should embody the principle that government is rooted in the people. The only way to get to that new Constitution is to start generating ideas about what a reborn America will look like, and to have a national discussion about it, just as the post-revolutionary generation of Americans did.

Of course, I have my own ideas about what to include, that I’ll be developing in my book. But just to get the discussion started, I’ll give you a quick sketch.

The Constitution, you will recall, was written to replace Articles of Confederation whose relative freedom threatened the fortunes of the new nation’s elite. I think America needs to return to the original vision of a confederation of states. The federal government should provide policy guidance and oversight, but the central engine of government should be the state.

Like Benjamin Franklin and other early American fans of the Iriquois Confederacy, I also think the federal legislature should be unicameral, which would be more democratic. A House of Lords—our present Senate—only institutionalizes the notion of elitism. The federal legislature could have one representative per half-million constituents, elected by state. This body would not be much larger than the current House of Representatives, but each citizen would have both more representation (a current representative has about 680,000 constituents) and more voice in the process, because there would only be one legislative house.

Since the primary function of the federal government will be policy and oversight, the executive branch can be replaced by a prime minister and a legislative committee system to oversee a vastly reduced bureaucracy, appointed by the legislature, whose responsibilities would essentially be coordinating and auditing state government functions—especially those under federal jurisdiction, like the environment and national defense. The legislature would also appoint a federal judiciary to decide on legal issues between states.

State governments would be modeled on the federal government, as a confederation of counties with a unicameral legislature. Administration of government would primarily take place at the county level. The states would be responsible for organizing state militias, and ensuring that state resources are distributed fairly. Taxing power would be shared by the state and counties. Every county should be self-sustaining in both their food and energy needs, to guarantee economic, and thus political independence.

Obviously, there are many points to be made about each of the proposals I’ve raised here, that I’ll save for the book. But I wanted to illustrate the range of potential for real governmental change that is open to us, if we will only open our minds to the possibility.

So how do we get there?

This returns me to the opening conversation in this essay, between me and my two friends whom I’ve never really met.

The problem of progressive politics is the problem of American society at large: it is fragmented and based in a culture of deceit and virtual reality. For example, as a 9/11 truther, I think progressives like David Corn, Norman Solomon, and Noam Chomsky, among others, owe me an apology. On my side of the argument, I’ve got a peer-reviewed scientific article in the Open Chemical Physics Journal, with astounding electron microscope photographs, which proves the existence of cutting-edge military grade explosives in the World Trade Center. They’ve got the Bush Incompetence Theory.

There’s no argument.

Yet a tour through the progressive blogosphere finds that most on the left still live in the false paradigm that 19 lucky Arabs forced the American empire to institute a virtual police state and initiate needless wars purely in response to the 9/11 “blowback” from imperial foreign policy. There are occasional whisperings that Khalid Sheik Mohamed, the so-called “mastermind” of 9/11, was tortured to elicit false testimony. But rarely is the next logical question ventured, even in the firestorm of controversy around the “torture memos.” If KSM testified falsely, what really did happen on 9/11?

The biggest political problem we face today is that democracy is predicated on an informed public. By contrast, despite (or because of) an information glut, the American public is generally uninformed, disinformed and misinformed. We have a corporate media system so tightly controlled that the only appearance outside the internet of the news that scientists have proven that the World Trade Center was brought down by controlled demolition was in Dr. Steven Jones’ hometown paper, the Deseret News. This is a level of media control that Stalin would have killed for. We will have to find alternative means to create an informed public.

What the 9/11 truth movement brings to the table is not only a truth that, once registered, may shock the public out of its cognitive dissonance and into an awareness of its real predicament, but the fact that truthers span the political spectrum. The fact is, where American elites have been particularly successful is in keeping the political left and right at each other’s throats, and thus blind to their common enemies. Even when protesting the same bailouts and bankster protection racket recently, the left and right held separate events, with Bill Greider in the left corner and Glenn Beck in the right. This “divide and conquer” elite strategy must be transcended.

Where the political transformation of America must begin is at the local, I think even at the precinct level. I realize this sounds like a cliché, but it is only through face-to-face community rebuilding that a sense of national purpose can be genuinely shared, and political differences overcome. We may communicate across cyberspace, but the human need for companionship can only be fully realized when verbal and nonverbal communication come together. This will also be the only way to circumvent the surveillance state, the 21st century’s Big Brother. Power does not surrender easily.

The political goal, however, must be the transformation of state governments. The states are the constitutional key to real change in America. Once the states reflect the genuine democratic aspirations of the people, change at the federal level can happen naturally. Of course, state and local governments both currently reflect the massive corruption at the federal level, which inevitably oozes downward. But changing state governments is, I believe, a more realistic and realizable goal than changing the federal government—which, as I said before, at this point seems to me beyond redemption.

I’ve been an idealist all my life. And despite the Democratic Party’s abuse of the term, I still believe in hope, which is pretty much all we’ve got left, politically. Where “fear” is the natural opposite of “hope” is in the annals of humanist psychology. Psychologists recognize that fear of the future prevents the human animal from hoping.

The politics of the national security state and the American empire is the politics of fear. The only way the people can reclaim America, and bring about another “new birth of freedom,” is by turning our hope into the will to change. Once we do that, the process of transformation can begin.