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Will We Get Fooled (Again)?


There was no question that the old constitution from Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who seized power from socialist Salvador Allende, had to go, and who better than former student activist, 36-year-old leftist president Gabriel Boric, to create a glorious new Constitution that would change everything.

Chilean voters rejected a 170-page, 388-article proposal that would have legalized abortion, mandated universal health care, required gender parity in government, given Indigenous groups greater autonomy, empowered labor unions, strengthened regulations on mining and granted rights to nature and animals.

In total, it would have enshrined over 100 rights into Chile’s national charter, more than any other constitution in the world, including the right to housing, education, clean air, water, food, sanitation, internet access, retirement benefits, free legal advice and care “from birth to death.”

And it would have eliminated the Senate, strengthened regional governments and allowed Chilean presidents to run for a second consecutive term.

The text included commitments to fight climate change and protect Chileans’ right to choose their own identity “in all its dimensions and manifestations, including sexual characteristics, gender identities and expressions.”

Any of these “rights” sound familiar? Of course they do, as the earth is flat, the internet is everywhere and the elite of Chile aren’t much different than our elite, The voters of Chile, however, didn’t adore this effort to turn Chile into a woke Utopia. They overwhelmingly rejected the Constitution by 62%. Three years down the tubes, because Chile still needs a constitution. The New York Times thought Chile’s effort to be pretty darn sweet.

The proposal’s sweeping ambition, and decidedly leftist slant, turned off many Chileans, including many who previously had voted to replace the current text. There was widespread uncertainty about its implications and cost, some of which was fueled by misleading information, including claims that it would have banned homeownership and that abortion would have been allowed in the ninth month of pregnancy.

Economists expected the proposed changes to cost from 9 percent to 14 percent of Chile’s $317 billion gross domestic product. The country has long been one of the lowest relative spenders on public services among major democracies.

But there was one far more curious piece to the new constitution, making Chile into a “plurinational” state.

That meant 11 Indigenous groups, which account for nearly 13 percent of the population, could have been recognized as their own nations within the country, with their own governing structures and court systems. The proposal became a centerpiece of the campaign to reject the charter.

With so many “ambitious” changes, it would be hard to know what, if anything, was successful and what, if anything, failed had this Constitution been approved. It would have been good for the rest of the world to watch this experiment happen in Chile, so that it could be watched from a distance and parsed for ideas that worked. After all, how many times can the retort be “real communism was never tried” as a riposte to seeking a system that has produced more death and misery than any other. But alas, the people of Chile refuse to be  political guinea pigs.

There has been a soft push for some time on the right for the states to call for a Constitutional Convention.

Elements on the right have for years been waging a quiet but concerted campaign to convene a gathering to consider changes to the Constitution. They hope to take advantage of a never-used aspect of Article V, which says in part that Congress, “on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments.”

Sure, the Constitution can (and has) been amended, but it’s a slog. For the ambitious right, a wholesale reinvention of the Constitution to impose the simplistic inflexible limits that make total sense to people whose deepest thoughts fit on bumper stickers.

“We need to channel the energy to restore and reclaim this country’s traditional values and founding principles of limited government closest to the people and individual freedom and responsibility,” Rick Santorum, the former Republican senator from Pennsylvania who has become a convention champion, told a conservative conference this spring in the state.

But these fiscal conservatives believe that they can hold a constitutional convention, but at the same time limit it to matters of fiscal policy. As if they wouldn’t try to sneak in something about abortion or education when they thought no one was looking. Former Wisconsin senator, Russ Feingold, with whom I haven’t agreed much since he took over the American Constitution Society, correctly raises an objection.

But Mr. Feingold and his co-author, the constitutional scholar Peter Prindiville, say the problem is that there is no certainty that the convention could be forced to stick to a defined agenda. They say that a “runaway” proceeding would be a distinct possibility, with delegates seizing the opportunity to promote wholesale changes in the founding document and veer into areas where they would seek to restrict federal power governing the environment, education and health care, among other issues.

“A convention by its very definition is a free-standing, distinct constitutional body,” Mr. Prindiville said. “It would be the ultimate high-risk gathering.”

And here’s where it gets really scary.

But support and opposition for a convention do not break completely along partisan lines. Some Republicans have resisted appeals at the state level to pass resolutions in support of a convention, worried that such a gathering could open the door to a weakening of the Second Amendment and a rollback of gun rights.

And some liberals have welcomed the idea of a convention as a way to modernize the Constitution and win changes in the makeup and power of the Supreme Court, ensure abortion rights, impose campaign finance limits and find ways to approach 21st-century problems such as climate change.

“There are smart people and a few on the progressive side who are willing to roll the dice,” Mr. Feingold said. “For me, it is crazy to take the chance.”

Both right and left, Feingold notwithstanding, fantasize that they are the majority, that they are so obviously right that a nation will back their desires and that they will be the beloved Founding People Who Gave Birth To A Nation People for whom statues will be built and elementary schools will be named. And as if this couldn’t get any scarier, there are a few things that both right and left are largely in agreement about, even if their reasons are different. Like the First Amendment.

Chile will have to scramble to put together a functional Constitution to undo the damage of Pinochet without falling into the woke hole. Perhaps they should consider adopting the United States Constitution. It’s worked pretty darn well for us for more than a couple centuries. In fact, it’s so darn good that even the idiots and nutjobs on the right and left get to have their say, dangerous though it may be.


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