Larry Sabato, director of the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia and a familiar cable TV pundit, has taken it upon himself to reform the U.S. Constitution -- to make it more in tune with a 21st-century political system. Among the eminently debatable ideas he puts forward in “A More Perfect Constitution: 23 Proposals to Revitalize Our Constitution and Make America a Fairer Country” are a single six-year term limit for presidents, two years of required national service for every citizen, and making it possible for foreign-born American citizens like Arnold Schwarzenegger to run for president. I talked to Professor Sabato by telephone on Thursday, Oct. 11, from his offices in Charlottesville, Va.
Q: What do you think is still sound about the Constitution?
A: There’s far more sound about it than needs repair. The superstructure is in good shape -- the separation of powers, the Bill of Rights and the essential underpinnings of American democracy are just as valid today as they were in 1787.
Q: What needs to be fixed and why?
A: I’ve got 23 separate proposals and they are pretty thorough and comprehensive, so I’m not going to summarize 23 ideas. But I’ll simply say we need some adjustments, some tweaking here and there in the powers of the branches, in the way that voters relate to the branches, and maybe particularly in adding a "politics article" to the Constitution.
The Founders were opposed to mass democracy and political parties. They later embraced both but it was too late for the Constitution. Look around the world: Most constitutions have a politics article helping to govern the politics of a country. It might help to do something about this insane primary system, for example, that we’re about to experience.
Q: In your recent L.A. Times commentary, the first change you talked about had to do with putting a brake on the president’s war-making powers. Can you elaborate?
A: Sure. The Founders would have been astounded that we have permitted the system to be hijacked by the executive. They wanted the president and Congress to share war-making powers. Look, this is in the nature of the executive. My proposal is a commentary on Harry Truman in Korea, Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, Richard Nixon in Vietnam and George W. Bush in Iraq -- two Democrats, two Republicans. Excessive war-making authority is in the nature of the presidential beast.