Presidential joke penner, nonfiction author and former staff writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Kevin Bleyer tackles his biggest challenge yet: tweaking the country's founding document.
Bleyer latest project, Me The People: One Man's Selfless Quest to Rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America, considers the origins and legacy of the United States Constitution, bringing an edge of humor to the politics of 1877 and a savvy critic's eye to our fundamentally guaranteed protections.
During a recent conversation with Kirkus, Bleyer weighed in on the current election season, voting as a constitutional right and the resilient nature of the U.S. Constitution.
Voting is not a constitutionally guaranteed right. Should that change?
Strange but true, right? States can, in fact, deny the "right to vote" for a bunch of reasons aside from the big, obvious amendment-protected ones—race, gender, income level, poll taxes. And certainly whenever you see, as we have this year, demands for Voter ID laws—logical in theory, often racist in practice—it's hard to argue against the idea that perhaps we need to put the right to vote in large calligraphic writing on a piece of Founder-certified parchment. I mean, couldn't hurt, right?
What makes you the man to rewrite the Constitution?
I feel like I had no choice. I owe America an apology even for not getting to it 200 years ago. Thomas Jefferson himself said that a constitution expires in 19 years. But I was a child of the ’80s, not the 1880s. It's an overdue task that had to be engaged upon, and if I'm the only patriot brave enough to do it, then so be it.
More sincerely, I was struck by the amount of attention that was being drawn to the Constitution, especially when so few people have read it or actually know what's in it. I figured that anything that could bring attention to the original document would only be added value.
The surprising part, however, is that many of these solutions—like how to fix the executive or legislative branches—were actually based on solutions that the Founding Fathers suggested. They were entertaining many, many broad ideas when they put this together.
What are your thoughts on this election season? Has it panned out as you'd expected? What surprised you?
Gee, ask me when it's over! Certainly, it never pans out exactly as you expect, and it always seems to pan out more absurdly than you could ever imagine. It's true that every year the campaigns pivot on the most trivial pursuits—slips of the tongue, declarations taken out of context, personal attacks—rather than real issues. But you always hope this'll be the year that everything gets serious. And you're always wrong.
Is there anything you were surprised to learn while researching this title?
The most fascinating part for me, by a long shot, was reading about the herky-jerky, etch-a-sketch goings-on at the Constitutional Convention. They were improvising like nobody's business. They were drinking beer for breakfast, stuck in a stuffy room with windows that didn't open in the summer heat, wearing powdered wigs, prisoners were rioting outside.
This seems like the type of situation that wouldn't exactly inspire clearheaded thinking. I kept thinking that I'd finally come to a part in my reading that would say, "and finally they got down to business." But that never happened. They were at such a loss as to what they wanted to do that they assigned a small committee to start writing parts of the Constitution at night. In the end, they just went with whatever state it was in. Everyone voted yeah because they were so tired of being there.
The thing about pretending to be such an authority on the Constitution is that you have to become an authority on the Constitution. Actually, what I enjoyed about the process is that I'm only a paragraph ahead of the reader. If you start speed reading, you might beat me to the finish. This was as much of a journey for me as it is for the reader. I spoon it to you the moment I learn it, so hopefully the book has a sense of dynamism and a number of breathless revelations.
And if you think about it, or even if you don't, you have to admit that I did more research on the last 200 years of American Constitutional history than the framers ever did. When I was in the New York Public Library checking out Madison's "Vices of the Political System of the United States" and "The Idiot's Guide to the Constitution," I didn't see a single Founding Father in line behind me.
And what's more, even though the framers claimed to base their Constitution on the great models of democracy throughout world history, none of them ever went to Greece. Whereas I went to Greece. So all I can say is: Top that, James Madison.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this article appeared online May 29, 2012.]