Franke: The Ocasio-Cortez Constitution

April 23, 2019

by Mark Franke

We were recently treated to an exchange between U. S. Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Liz Cheney about the purpose of the 22st Amendment to the Constitution. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, who never fails to entertain and amaze, asserted it was passed by Republicans to prevent President Franklin D. Roosevelt from being elected for another term.

Rep. Cheney, daughter of a U. S. vice president father and Ph. D. scholar mother, must have thought she had been offered up a softball. The 22st Amendment was introduced two years after Roosevelt had died in office and became part of the Constitution in 1951 near the end of Harry S Truman’s term.

Does Ocasio-Cortez think a deceased FDR should have been eligible for reelection? She’s from New York, not Chicago, so probably not.

Maybe she simply remembered from U.S. history class that Thomas Dewey raised the issue during the 1944 presidential race when Roosevelt was running for an unprecedented fourth term. Dewey called this a threat to democracy, when a president serves 16 years. Sadly no, she just read something on the Internet which, of course, must be true.

In fairness to the Internet site she surfed, Constitution Daily, there was a mention in a longer, well-considered blog entry about Dewey’s raising the issue in 1944. Even a cursory reading of that article would have disabused her of her oblivious claim. In fact, the proposed amendment got through Congress based on bipartisan support from both Republicans and Democrats. Remember that constitutional amendments need a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of Congress before they can be submitted to the states for ratification.

Not to bore you with a history lesson, but the National Archives “Amending America” project counts 125 term-limit amendment proposals submitted to Congress beginning in 1788. Term limits were debated at the Constitutional Convention but not adopted, some think due to the fathers not wanting to appear in opposition to George Washington’s popularity. (Other scholars, by the way, argue that more than 200 such amendments have been introduced prior to the 1947 one that was adopted.)

I wish I could say that it is just Ocasio-Cortez who is exceptionally ignorant of the Constitution, which she may very well be based on other pronouncements of hers. Unfortunately this ignorance is much deeper and broader than just one highly opinionated Congresswoman.

A 2017 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 37 percent of adults could not name even one right guaranteed by the 1st Amendment. Nearly three-fourths of respondents could not name all three branches of government. As we encourage more and more people to vote, we teach them less and less about the republic that gives them that right.

These are indeed times that try men’s souls.

But all is not lost. I recently had the privilege of serving as a judge in the American Legion’s National Oratory Contest. This annual event features high school students from across America who prepare and present short speeches on some aspect of the Constitution. Starting at the local American Legion district level, winning students move through regional and state contests before being selected to compete nationally.

I was a judge at the national quarter-final level where, with four other judges, I listened to speeches by students from five different states in our assigned pool. These students gave well-reasoned arguments for the importance of our ageless Constitution. Many chose their prepared speech to be on the First or other amendments. They then were given 10 minutes to compose another speech on a randomly assigned amendment. They clearly had to know their stuff to do that under significant time pressure.

Contest grading focused more on content than delivery. How well did the speaker understand his subject? Were her examples relevant to her thesis? Were sources used correctly and attributed properly? Rep. Ocasio-Cortez would have received spectacularly low grades in these categories.

Some of these students clearly spoke from the heart on why our rights as Americans are so important to understand and protect. All of them exhibited first-class knowledge of what the Constitution is and why it is that way.

One hopes young people like these will rise to leadership positions, not just in government but also in business and education and charities. Else, our political discourse will continue its descent into the abyss of ignorance-driven odium.

Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review, is formerly an associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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