Bill Kreml and the US Constitution

Crunching around in the snows of New Hampshire next year personable professor Bill Kreml of the University of South Carolina may be running for president. It is his plan to enter the six New England primaries and hold forums in universities and colleges in the area. His organization is being put together now. On a less ambitious scale he made a token run for senator in the Democratic primary in South Carolina in 1980, and out of the campaign came an informal organization, the Commission on Constitutional Study. It has attracted support from some intellectuals, including Lloyd Cutler, C. Douglas Dillon, Robert McNamara, and James MacGregor Burns.

The argument is that the United States ought to examine its constitutional system at this juncture and maybe refurbish it. Nobody can look around Washington these days without sensing a mood of uncertainty and even frustration. Perhaps it is deepening. It has been here some time. No president has served a second term since Dwight Eisenhower. Voter participation in presidential elections has sunk steadily for the last five contests. Maybe parts of the system should be examined.

Dr. Kreml believes so. He sees what he calls the Fourth Constitutional Challenge. The first came, according to his theory, in the shake-down after the little nation was launched and the operational problems of the most radical government on earth were successfully faced. Next challenge was the Civil War which ensured that regional sections wouldn't fly off. Dr. Kreml thinks the third challenge was in the '30s under FDR when America finally followed Europe into the social welfare state. (That was an exciting time: Even by 1940 only a half of America's unemployed had been put back to work, Dr. Kreml says, but the war left the United States with a half of the world's productivity.)

And now, today . . .

Will our system work in the new test? The Founding Fathers consciously fragmented America's governmental structure. They left us with a Constitution which balanced governmental institutions. Jefferson had doubts about it; he argued that the Constitution should alter with the times; he admonished citizens to change it every generation. Foreigners wonder; how does America operate, they ask; even in picking the candidates for president there are 36 primaries. There are other changes: decay of old-line parties and the rise of the new-fangled political action committees.

Why not use the constitutional bicentenary for cerebration as well as a celebration, Dr. Kreml asks? He tells me that Lester Thurow of MIT, Robert Lane at Yale, former senator James B. Abourezk, and others have agreed to appear at forums and panels that he will hold to discuss the ''challenge.'' He doesn't recommend all-out change in our government, to the parliamentary system say, but he has a couple of constitutional amendments he would like to see adopted. It would add cogency and coherency, he says, to extend House terms to four years (to run concurrent with the president's). And he would advocate that old idea, abrogate Article One, Section 6, of the Constitution to let members of Congress serve in the president's cabinet and to let cabinet members speak and sit in Congress. It is forbidden now.

The second proposal has an interesting history. Both President Carter and Walter Mondale favored it. The Confederate Constitution provided for it. Congressional committees in 1864 and 1882 recommended it. After all, hasn't the time come for closer cooperation between the sundered executive and legislative branches of government? Why should a phrase in the Constitution specifically ban such cooperation?

That's only one of Dr. Kreml's ideas. Members of the informal new Committee on Constitutional Study are considering it. The important thing, perhaps, is that the world is getting to be a tougher place for the fragmented American system. ''What is more important,'' Dr. Kreml argues, ''is that the imbalances within the American constitutional order be discussed, and discussed thoroughly during the bicentennial period. I am confident that as the American citizenry more fully understand the institutional deadlock within our government, they will come to grips with it and meet our fourth constitutional challenge.''

I think Thomas Jefferson would not be averse to such a discussion.

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