When Obama is reciting your jokes, you know you got it somewhat going on. Kevin Bleyer, a writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, tackles his biggest challenge yet: tweaking the country's founding document.
"In the same way The Daily Show brings an amusing eye to the political issues of the day, I have, hopefully, brought an amusing eye to the politics of 1877," Bleyer says of his latest project, Me The People: One Man's Selfless Quest to Rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America. Consider his mission accomplished.
Read more new and notable nonfiction from May.
Bleyer recently spoke to us about the odd habits of the Founding Fathers, European travel and the resilient nature of the U.S. Constitution.
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.
In using the device of rewriting—and I rewrote each and every article and amendment—I hopefully attended to the actual issues that people have with the Constitution, whatever its merits, virtues, vices may be. I address those particular issues and offer solutions, many of which are absurd.
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's so terrible about the Constitution as it stands now?
It's just so old, that's the main problem. It's the oldest currently operating constitution in the world. This may be a provision of pride for 99.8 percent of the American population, but that doesn't mean we can't do without a complete overhaul.
There's really nothing wrong with the Constitution except for every single thing I say in the book. You may have noticed that I write about every single article and amendment, so that's a lot of things wrong. Hopefully anyone who reads through the entire book will see that it turns out what we have is pretty good. I'm hoping to inspire a little more reverence.
What would you say is your most radical change to the document?
I think to be somewhat sincere about this—wait, that's not the right phrase; it's impossible for me to be sincere. But it's been said that the entire virtue of the Constitution is that it's the product of a great compromise. The Great Compromise. All these men from different parts of the country could compromise on what America should be.
Today we can't agree on anything, let alone something like that. So the most radical thing I'm suggesting is that compromise is unpatriotic. This is America, that's not what we do. We make brash decisions and stand by them. As I said in the book, if you put compromise in the Constitution then you have compromised the Constitution.
I was surprised to find that you didn't see the need to add another amendment while you were at it. Are the days of amendments over? We haven't seen one since the 1970s.
How dare you get in the way of my sequel?
I wrote 20-something chapters, and I do address every single article and amendment. Everything I've written is new. Remember, this thing had to come in under 500 pages! I didn't want to overwhelm my audience. I wanted to leave them wanting more.
But it's hard to imagine that there will be an amendment to the Constitution in my lifetime. For some people, that might be a boon. But considering that Congress has only passed one bill this past session...if that's the only thing that they can come to terms on, it's hard to believe that they'd be able to agree on an amendment to the document they swear fealty to.
You've become something of an amateur constitutional scholar at this point. Is there anything you were surprised to learn while researching this title? And how'd you research 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.