Recapturing the spirit of the Progressive Era
The tactful suggestion that my arguments aren't original is absolutely correct. One of the points that I try to make, both in the book and when I give talks, is that I'm really trying to recreate a mood that was remarkably present at the turn of the 20th century and has almost disappeared today: a willingness to look unsentimentally at the Constitution and to ask whether it serves us well today. Smith's book was written in 1907. 1913, of course, would see the publication of Charles Beard's Economic Origins of the Constitution. More to the point (since I don't particularly share Beard's "founder-bashing") , serious critiques of the Constitution were being offered by Woodrow Wilson, the author of Congressional Government, and Teddy Roosevelt, who was supporting the initiative and referendum and was raising questions about judicial supremacy. The 'teens were a period of constitutional debate and change, beginningn with the 16th and 17th Amendments in 1913, which, taken together, help to explain, for better and, for some you, for worse, the rise of the modern national government, as well as the 19th Amendment that guaranteed the vote to women. The Prohibition Amendment is not well regarded by most people, though, as Robert Post has noted, it was supported at the time by many political progressives concerned about the social ravages of alcoholism, as conservative moralists. That it ultimately failed may tell us important things about the limits of government without necessarily impugning the motivations behind it.
Since World War II, however, there has been only one truly important Amendment, the 22nd Amendment designed to exact revenge on FDR by limiting presidents to two terms. And that was added in 1951, by definition well over a half-century ago. And, note well, it's a "structural" and "hard-wired" amendment. It has nothing to do, formally, with any of the hot button issues that divide us and is incapable of manipulation by clever manipulation to allow, say, Bill Clinton or George Bush to run for a third term regardless of what it says. As a matter of fact, I think we're probably better off with the Amendment that without it, given the power of modern presidents over the media, but I'd feel better if Congress could, by a 3/4 vote, suspend the Amendment if, for example, we were at war and the public had genuine confidence in the Commander-in-Chief who also had great diplomatic skills. Would anyone really have wanted to replace FDR in 1944, even if a good argument can be made that someone else should have become president in 1940?
It would indeed be a good thing if everyone read Smith and discussed what parts of his critique still apply and which parts have become truly outmoded.