Voter Issue Education: Doing it Right

Good news, everyone! Glenn Beck is taking his own brand of dishonest, outrage-powered, vaudeville-esque faux populism on the road, with voter “education” seminars to debut next year.   Surely his hordes of indoctrinated voters will be able to right the ship of state, by properly identifying and then putting a stop to “socialist fascism” in all its forms, from Mercury Dimes to national parks!

Seriously, though.  The idea that Glenn Beck’s viewers vote is troubling enough.  That his twisted theories of American politics could become further calcified in the minds of his viewers verges on criminal disinformation.  Still, despite a hopelessly flawed execution, Beck might’ve hit onto something profoundly lacking in American life.  Although our public schools – or private substitutes – are meant to build the foundations for a lifetime of good citizenship, as society becomes more complex, politics more public, and citizens more involved, the gap between high school civics, and what every citizen should know, grows apace.

This is a problem that I have attempted to solve, partially, with this blog, laying out the foundations of American law, and their bearing on the great problems of our day.  You, readers, have returned the favor in spades (thanks!). But what would a more formalized, proper “voter education seminar” look like? I have a modest proposal —  a guide of interesting things to examine, not a text. Festina lente, you know.

I.  The Founders’ World: Problems in Old Europe

  • A.  Religious Wars of the Sixteenth Through Nineteenth Centuries
  • B.  Inescapable European Conflict
  • C.  Monarchy: Tyranny, Failures of Succession, and Repression
  • D.  Overpopulation
  • E.  Classical Influences:
    1.  The Roman Republic (idealized)
    2.  The Roman Republic (in reality)
    3.  “True” Democracy in Athens
    4.  Takeaway Lessons on Direct and Representative Democracy

II.  Initial American Solutions to European Problems

  • A.  Refresher on the American Revolution
  • B.  Federalism’s First Blush: the Articles of Confederation as a Failed Experiment in Decentralized, Confederate Government
  • C.  Geopolitics: the Fortune (and Necessity) of a New, Secure, United Continent
  • D.  The Notion of Enforceable Rights: Habeas Corpus, Property, and Conscience Rights
  • E.  Enlightenment Influences on Religious Expression Rights

III.  The Constitutional Convention

  • A.  “Classical” Separation of Powers: Montesquieu/Locke, and the Federalist Papers
  • B.  “Positive” Separation of Powers versus “Negative” Separation of Powers: Modern Consequences
  • C.  Executive “Energy” in Wartime and Crisis Situations
  • D.  Legislative Supremacy
  • E.  Introduction to Judicial Review and the Madisonian Compromise (Federalist No. 78)
    1.  Marbury v. Madison
    2.  McCullough v. Maryland
    3.  Modern Academic Critiques of Judicial Review; Infeasibility of Alternatives
    4.  The Countermajoritarian Difficulty & John Stuart Mill’s Theory of the “Tyranny of the Majority”
    5.  Victories for Judicial Review: e.g., Brown v. Board of Education
    6.  Defeats for Judicial Review: e.g., Lochner v. New York
  • F.  Federalism: “Limited” Government and the Necessary & Proper Clause
  • G.  Federalism: the Original Meaning of the “Commerce Clause”
    1.  Framer’s Conception as Limited
    2.  Framers’ Conception as Broad
    3.  Refresher: the Articles of Confederation, and the Need for a Strong National Government
  • H.  Reserved Powers: the Tenth Amendment as a Tautology
    1.  Rhetorical Need for a Tenth Amendment
    2.  Modern Definition as Superfluous
  • I.  The Bill of Rights (Overview; Limitation to Federal Acts)
  • J.  The Stain of Slavery in the Constitutional Convention

IV.  The Civil War: The “Last Battle of the American Revolution”

  • A.  Historical Refresher: Nullification, Slavery, Economies, and Culture Wars
  • B.  Emergency Powers, as Used in the Civil War
  • C.  Peace and Reconstruction: Amendments XIII, XIV, XV

V.  The Revolutionary Fourteenth Amendment

  • A.  “Incorporation”: Application of the Bill of Rights to the States
  • B.  “Equal Protection of the Laws”: Modern Antidiscrimination Law
  • C.  “Due Process”: Substantive and Procedural
  • D.  Limitation of “Privileges and Immunities” Rights; Possible Resurgence

VI.  Specific Constitutional Amendments, and their Modern Application

  • A.  “Establishment of Religion”: Tension in the Historical Record (e.g., Blasphemy Laws), Enlightenment Inspiration, Modern Application
  • B.  “Freedom of Speech”: Tension in the Historical Record, Elusiveness of a Definition, Symbolic Speech, the Need for Citizen Responsibility
  • C.  “The Right to Bear Arms”: Competing Historical Narratives in D.C. v. Heller

And the list goes on. The point of this exercise isn’t to be exhaustive — that’s surely beyond my efforts — but to demonstrate the existence of the problem, and the inadequacy of Beck’s solution. The idea that a day’s seminar (combined with a few 300 page books with funny pictures on the cover) can convey all the knowledge one needs to be an informed citizen is laughable, and will do more harm than good. If we want to inspire good citizenship, and improve the quality of debate in this country, the goal should be to inspire an interest in serious questions and provide a set of tools with which to answer them. Constructing a closed universe predicated on a narrow, deeply flawed vision of American history is essentially doubling the damage. Like Bender the robot, Glenn Beck should be more ashamed of himself than usual.



  1. I’d love to see this written, and I’d love to see it posted on Issuepedia if you are looking for a venue.

    The blog format is a good way to publish time-sequenced pieces where you want reader feedback, but it’s not so good for organizing reference works (though it certainly can be used that way); the wiki format is more suitable for things which need to be maintained in an ongoing way, especially reference works.

  2. Woozle, that’s an interesting idea!!! I’d seen your comments before but hadn’t identified you with Issuepedia. I’ll think about it. You’re definitely right that a wikiproject beats a blog for that sort of content.

  3. Sorry for the late post, but I’m reviewing a Tea Party book that’s making huge claims on the 10th amendment. Is their a consise summary of legal interpretations of that amendment?

    1. Hey Chris, thanks for writing! I had two posts that addressed the issue specifically:

      I’d be happy to unpack either or both posts, feel free to ask here!

  4. I think these will do it for me, thanks!

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