Washington — Should a presidential election last a year? Are 37 primaries the way to pick a presidential candidate? Is stalemate between White House and Congress the way to meet urgent problems?
Dr. William P. Kreml, a professor of political science at the University of South Carolina, says "no" to these questions. And he is running for the US Senate on a platform demanding basic changes.
With the support of other political scientists, he argues that the United States Constitution is showing its age, that the Founding Fathers would be shocked at the way their work has crystallized in 200 years, and that the time has come for change.
Dr. Kreml is telling voters in South Carolina that the country needs a 56 -member constitutional commission, broadly based and highly qualified, to go into seclusion for a few years and to emerge with a more flexible instrument of government incorporating parliamentary features. He would have the document ready, he tells audiences, in time for the bicentennial celebration of the adoption of the present Constitution, which got its technical nine-state majority when Virginia ratified it on June 25, 1788.
"The failure of Congress to deal with questions of energy, inflation, productivity, and tax reform is due to an outdated Constitution," Dr. Kreml told a political forum in Columbia, S.C. He is on leave from his university to engage in the senatorial contest. He is hardly likely to unseat Sen. Ernest Hollings, the 12-year Democratic incumbent. But Dr. Kreml regards the senatorial race as an opportunity to educate the public on a serious governmental issues.
In the recent forum, Dr. Kreml was supported by Prof. Robert McClure of Syracuse University, Prof. William Schaefer of American University, and Prof. David Olson of the University of North Carolina.
"The presidential system -- which has been adopted by few modern states," Dr. Kreml says, "is founded upon the separation of powers. The American system still labors under this form, and it is burdened as well with a difficult method of amendment controlled by the very institutions which are in the greatest need of alteration."
It has been widely assumed that Article 5 of the Constitution, providing for revision by a constitutional convention, is impractical, since it would open the way for extremists to try to make their pet ideas part of the Constitution.
The proposed Kreml procedure would establish an elite constitutional commission with alimited agenda; let it operate in relative seclusion, as the constitutional convention did at Philadelphia in 1787; and offer its more flexible system to the nation perhaps as an appropriate part of the bicentennial anniversary seven years hence.
What is the matter with the present system?
Dr. Kreml and his associates argue that the Constitution has been blocked off from "the evolutionary process which the parliamentary systems permitted themselves." It was a time of monarchs 200 years ago, he says: The American President was "the clear analogue of the crown," the Senate of the House of Lords. British, French, and German evolutions have followed triple themes, they say: monarchical decline, legislative ascendancy, and party invigoration.
The US, by contrast, Dr. Kreml argues, leaves the presidency (substituing for the crown) as lonely as "King George was from [Prime Minister] William Pitt and Parliament. The Senate (substitute for the House of Lords) is "perhaps the most archaic legislative body among the principal Western states, still standing alone, defying party and institutional leadership within its own halls and declining linkage with its sister house and between it and the executive."
The situation has become worse recently, candidate Kreml argues.
Political parties have eroded, he says, and there is declining identification or accountability between party platform and candidates.