Authors at Google: Kevin Bleyer, "ME THE PEOPLE: One Man's Quest to Rewrite the Constitution..."

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 20.08.2012

>>Female Presenter: I'm really excited today to introduce our speaker, Kevin Bleyer. I
was calling him Kevin Blair and he told me it was Bleyer and it rhymes with "liar." So,
I got it down.
So, one of my favorite parts about hosting these Tech Talks is obviously getting to come
here and do the intros, 'cause I get to try my hand at comedy. I'm a little intimidated
today because I'm introducing Kevin, who's a writer for "The Daily Show."
So, I'm not gonna try, but I did decide to use a really quality intro on Kevin that I'd
read and I feel describes his work a little better than I could. So, Emmy Award winner
Kevin Bleyer is an Emmy Award winning writer for "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart for
which he has won multiple Emmy Awards.
Before re-writing the Constitution, Bleyer co-authored the number one New York Times
best-seller "Earth: The Book" and negotiated bipartisan consensus as a writer and producer
for "Politically Incorrect" with Bill Maher and Dennis Miller. Since 2008, he's been a
term member on the Counsel of Foreign Relations and since 2009, has been a contributor to
President Obama's White House correspondence dinner addresses.
So, he secretly runs the government already. Kevin lives here in New York City where he
regularly poses for portraits. Please join me in welcoming our guest, Mr. Kevin Bleyer.
>>Kevin: Wow.
That's some highlights. Wow. Thank you. No, please. Sit down. You're embarrassing me.
Stop that. [laughs] I am blushing. You've done it. Thank you so much. It is an honor
to be here and heck, sure, yeah.
It's an honor for you to have me here. Why not? I'll agree with you. That's sweet of
you to say. Truly an honor to be here at Google and I do feel like this is one of the few
places where I feel it might be more appropriate for to tell you to turn on your cell phones.
I'm sure you hear that a lot. My name is Kevin Bleyer.
And to see so many people here and to know that people are watching online, if it's possible
for someone who just rewrote the entire Constitution of the United States to say he is humbled,
I guess I could say I'm humbled. I did in fact, as you have heard, somehow single-handedly
rewrote the entire Constitution of the United States by myself, without any help from any
of you people.
So, I don't know where you were. Frankly, I'm exhausted. Now, when I tell people that
I rewrote the Constitution, the question I often hear either from their lips or just
in my head is, "Well, why did you do that?" And there are a dozen very good answers that
are in the book. There are also a few very poor answers that are also in the book.
And I'll tell you a few of them right now. It would be perhaps too convenient, although
not altogether incorrect, to say well, I saw everyone else rewriting the Constitution,
so why not me? My turn. It seemed only fair. I could also say to you, you know what? Even
if I rewrote the Constitution, knowing what I know now about the Constitution, I'm not
so sure that anyone would have even noticed.
And I'll tell you what I mean by this. Most Americans, and I would probably have to say
some of you probably in this room, too, don't even know exactly what's in the Constitution.
A few stats I'll throw at you. More American teenagers can name the Three Stooges than
can name the three branches of government.
And by the way, that's the Three Stooges. It's not like it's Justin Bieber. American
teenagers now can name the Three Stooges more than they can name the three branches of government.
Nine in ten adults believe that "of the people, by the people, for the people" is in the Constitution,
even though it is of the Gettysburg Address by President Abraham Lincoln and for crying
out loud, they probably learned that at some point.
Most agree this I say to you is that nearly half of Americans--also true--think that "from
each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" was written by James Madison,
not Karl Marx. And by the way, Karl Marx is not one of the Three Stooges, for those teenagers
who happen to be tuning in.
Nor is he actually a Marx brother. I mean, he is a Marx brother. He had brothers, but
I don't think they were known for being very funny. And so, I tell you when John Boehner
himself, in 2009, stood up his copy of a pocket Constitution at a rally in Ohio and said "I
stand here with the Founders, with the framers, who wrote in the Preamble of the Constitution,
'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,' and yet didn't
realize that's actually the second sentence in the Declaration of Independence, I thought,
"You know what? There's an opportunity here. Perhaps I can step up."
Now in fairness, and I've been careful to point this out anywhere I've been, I begrudge
no one. I denigrate him not at all, nor do I denigrate anyone with these blind spots
because I'm sure my blind spots are just as large.
They certainly were before I started this project. Had you asked me a few years ago,
before I started researching this book, how does the Constitution begin? I may have said,
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
Which, by the way, is not altogether untrue if you think about what happened in 1787.
But an even better answer to the question of why I rewrote the Constitution is this.
I had no choice, no less than Thomas Jefferson himself told me I had to.
Thomas Jefferson, who I think we can all agree, is one of the more foundry of the Founding
Fathers and therefore someone we should probably listen to, said to the world back then that
every Constitution on Earth naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced
longer, it is an act of force and not of right.
Every Constitution. So, in other words, by his math, our Constitution has been expired
for over two centuries, dead, kaput, an ex-parrot you might say. His words. And so, in his math,
I should have written this over 200 years ago. It should have been rewritten eleven
times by now. And frankly, I feel bad I'm just getting to it now.
I've been slacking for two centuries. So, I owe all of you an apology. What's more,
in my research, I also, even though we see people cozy up to the Constitution, say they
know what's in it, cite it, put it on posters, often incorrectly. Even though it seems to
be a weapon in the debate, so to speak, and used as a weapon unfortunately in the debate,
I still feel like it needs some good publicity these days.
And I have some very significant statistics also that suggest that. Twenty-five years
ago, of the 170 countries that then existed, a full 160 of them--and keep in mind, some
of these countries are rather old. Of those countries, 160 actually based their Constitutions,
at least in part, on our Constitution. In the last 25 years, when fledgling democracies
go shopping around for a constitution, what percentage of them now do so?
Precisely zero, according to a study in the Harvard Law Review, which I found quite rather
amusing or interesting or rather devastating, too. Not to mention that just a couple months
ago, no less than, justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself was in Egypt, and she told the Egyptians
if she were designing a democracy in 2012, she would actually not use the American Constitution
as a model.
Now that was surprising to me because you think of her as someone who is out to protect
every clause of the Constitution. And if she's not going to blindingly, unthinkingly, and
ignorantly as I am doing, go out and cheer lead for the Constitution, at least I can--even
though I'm totally unauthorized to do so--the only time I wear a robe is at the spa.
Now, I will tell you that what these other countries are doing is they're looking to
other country's Constitutions. More often now, they're looking to South Africa, a fairly
new Constitution, and to, and this is especially galling to me, an American patriot, they're
looking to Canada. [laughs] Apparently because those Constitutions, in their estimation,
care more about human rights and something called the environment.
Environment. Oh, environment. That's what it is. And finally, I suppose the most legitimate
reason that I rewrote the Constitution is I figure, well, if Apple can rewrite their
iTunes service agreement every 19 minutes, certainly I can rewrite the Constitution every
19 years. It seems fair.
And by the way, that brings up, I wanna give due diligence and due credence to the people
here today and say that I owe you a thank you as well because after suggesting all these
statistics, I want to read how Google actually became a part of my research, or as I call
it, my me-search. Yes. That's right. I did win an Emmy for word play like that. Ridiculous.
So, I'll read this section. It's early on. Oh, yeah. I'll read this section first.
[reads from book] "Is it any wonder, I ask you, that President
George W Bush once called the Constitution, and I quote, "a goddamned piece of paper?"
Not to me. Because unlike you, I googled that quote just now. Apparently it is apocryphal,
which I also googled and learned it is another way of saying 'not true.'
Never happened. Bogus. Evidently, a few years ago, a left-wing muckraker spread the rumor
that one of the President's aides advised him not to renew the Patriot Act--on account
of it being unconstitutional--and the President supposedly said, quote 'Stop throwing the
Constitution in my face. It's just a goddamned piece of paper.'
Oh sure, there might be some truthiness to that, but it is, nonetheless, a lie. Didn't
happen. The 43rd President of the United States never said that the Constitution he swore
an oath to uphold quote 'to the best of his ability through rain or sleet or gloom of
night.' --note to self, Google 'presidential oath of office-- was quote 'just a goddamned
piece of paper.'
After all, it couldn't possibly be a goddamned piece of paper, not when our third President
had already and long ago declared it quote 'a mere thing of wax.' Thomas Jefferson, not
long after the Constitution was enforced, lamented aloud that the Justices of the Supreme
Court had already usurped the right of quote 'exclusively explaining the Constitution'
and therefore could, as the nation's first judicial activists, 'twist and shape it' unquote
into any form they please, like so much revolutionary Play-Doh.
By calling dibs on the first constitutional metaphor, Jefferson has beaten Bush to the
punch by two hundred years. It is no goddamned piece of paper, it is a mere thing of wax.
Now, to suggest that violating the Constitution, as Thomas Jefferson admitted that he did in
the Louisiana Purchase, is somehow uncommon, or unpresidential, or worse, un-American,
overlooks an inconvenient truth.
Namely, yes, if not for that flagrant violation of the Constitution, known as the Louisiana
Purchase, by none other then Thomas Jefferson we'd hardly recognize the country we see on
so many elementary school maps. America wouldn't be America. If the third President of the
United States hadn't shrugged off the document he had sworn to protect quote 'by hook or
by crook' unquote--note to self,seriously man, Google the presidential oath of office
already--and doubled the size of the nation with the stroke of a pen, even though the
Constitution gave him no such authority, the Western Coast of America would be on the Eastern
bank of the Mississippi.
We would be crowning thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining St. Louis. Jefferson knew
this, too. In embarking on the most aggressive executive action in history, he was quite
aware he was sticking his neck out too far. The Constitution might not approve. 'The Executive,'
he wrote, referring to himself, 'in seizing the fugitive occurrence which so much advances
the good of the country have done an act beyond the Constitution.'
Jefferson rationalized his decision, telling himself that his act of subversion was a vote
of confidence in the fledgeling nation. Quote 'I did this for your own good,' he wrote plainly.
His guilty conscience even spurred him to devise an excuse if the pitchfork-wielding
guardians of the Constitution came knocking at his door.
Quote 'I thought of my duty to risk myself for you.' Unquote. It is a startling admission
for any President of the United States. His sworn assignment was--thank you Google--to
quote 'preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.' His higher duty was to thwart it."
But now the question absolutely will remain, why rewrite the Constitution? Why do a comic,
fraudulent, jeremiad take down of every article, Amendment and the Preamble, rather than just
point at it and say, "Hey, it's not so bad." I actually begin the very beginning of the
book with an anecdote that explains specifically why I decided to do this. And it goes a little
bit like, by the way, this is my bookmark. It's an occupational hazard. In fact, it's
the exact same bookmark that you see there. I posed with it. So, here's the anecdote that
explains every word in this book.
[reads from book] "Their beloved bell was in jeopardy. It had
hung dutifully for decades, pealing hourly from its steeple above the Pennsylvania State
House, breaking the peace of the Philadelphia streets, only to remind its citizens that
time had marched on and all was well. But these were no longer peaceful times.
It was 1777, a year after America had declared her independence from the British crown and
only days after her lion-hearted general, George Washington, had suffered a withering
defeat at the Battle of Brandywine. All signs were that Philadelphia, the revolutionary
capitol, might well be the next to fall.
Fearing that the king's men would melt any metal they found into British cannons, a few
American patriots confiscated their own bell, soon to be known appropriately as the 'Liberty
Bell,' and hid it in the safest place they could find--under a pile of horse manure.
The gambit worked. The marauding redcoats never got their British hands on our American
The lesson learned back then rings as clear today. Sometimes, in order to save and honor
something we cherish, we have to shit on it."
You're mad at me over there. I can tell. So, yes. That, I would think, justifies. It gives
me the political cover to write this book. I was also amused, as you might have seen
just a few weeks ago, the maintenance crew at Independence Hall in Philadelphia where
the Liberty Bell is. I had spent an entire day and a half adding a protective shellac
to the outside of the Liberty Bell.
And I can't help but think, knowing as we do now, where the Liberty Bell has been. They're
about 240 years too late. The Founders actually knew this. And most of them suspected at the
end of that time in Philadelphia that the Constitution that they wrote by September
is, as the kids might say, a bit of a hot mess.
For starters, this venerated document doesn't mention the word "slavery" or the word "democracy"
or even "Facebook." It plays favorites among the states, giving Wyoming as many Senators
as New York. And I mean, come on. It has typos and misspellings and a smudge that, and this
is true, may or may not be a comma empowering the government to seize your house depending
on which Constitutional scholar you ask.
It is, as we know, scrawled with the quill of a goose on the skin of a goat. And its
Preamble, its famous Preamble, its most famous introductory passage was written by delegate
Gouverneur Morris, a man with a peg-leg. They called him the Peg Leg Morris. And while his
Preamble is notoriously beautiful, it nonetheless, gives our sacred Constitution hardly a leg
to stand on.
People. OK. There we go. Groan if you must and you should. But the Founders knew this,
too. And in fact, by the way, just so you know, New York is number one. I should say
this. I spent some time in Article 4, which the Article 4 is actually supposed to referee
disputes among the states. And sometimes it doesn't do such a great job.
So, I decided the only way to really solve the problem is to go ahead and rank the states
already. Now, I ranked New York as number one, obviously. But depending how the rest
of this afternoon goes, I'm just saying, we could fall a few spots. George Washington
himself, George Washington himself, the man who presided over the Constitutional Convention,
agrees with me about the flaws in the Constitution.
It was he who predicted that the flawed Constitution would become controversial. "A child of fortune,"
he said. "To be fostered by some but buffeted by others." And when the Constitutional Convention
was over, he said explicitly, quote "I wished it had been made more perfect." Benjamin Franklin
himself stomached it only quote "with all its faults."
And in fact, on the very last day of the Constitutional Convention, George Washington, excuse me,
Benjamin Franklin gave a speech that I think somewhat hilariously sums up what he really
probably thought about their handiwork that day. It was in the same speech where he said
that he wished everyone would doubt their infallibility and put their name to the measure.
And he finished the speech by saying this, and I think--. You just need to read in-between
the lines a little bit, see what he's really saying to understand what he actually felt
about the four months of compromise that they had just done. He says, quote "I confess that
there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve.
But I am not sure I shall never approve them. I doubt whether any other convention we can
obtain may be able to make a better Constitution. Thus, I consent to this Constitution because
I expect no better. And because I am not sure that it is not the best," which you might
say he sounds like a Republican endorsing Mitt Romney.
Exactly. Damning with faint praise. Whereas, unlike my book, which I hope people understand
the true intent as Justice Scalia did. And I'll talk about him a little bit later. That
I'm hopefully praising with faint damnation.
You'll see that I actually come back around. I don't want to spoil the ending. I don't
want to tell you that the butler did or didn't do it. But if anything, only the accomplice.
And I'll get to that a little bit, too. Because as these Founders knew, while we think of
the Constitution as yes, the painstakingly designed blueprint drawn up by what Thomas
Jefferson called "an assembly of demigods," who laid the foundation for the sturdiest
republic ever created.
All true. By the end of that summer in Philadelphia, the framers knew the truth that the Constitution
was not exactly a blueprint. They would have agreed that it was a bit of, and I use this
phrase as I wrote it a year ago, a bit of an Etch-A-Sketch. A haphazard series of blunders.
They admitted that they had to shake clean and redraw dozens of times during a sweltering
summer of petty debates, drunken ramblings, wild improvisation, and desperate compromise.
You have to imagine it. They were, I mean, we had this last weekend in New York, right?
It was miserably hot. And Philadelphia was even hotter. And they were there for four
months in the sweltering summer of Philadelphia wearing powdered wigs, wool coats. They locked
the doors. They shuttered the windows for privacy.
There was no such thing as air-conditioning. It was an unventilated room. There was a prison
riot right across the street. Butchers were throwing animal carcasses that they were done
with, truly, within feet of the Pennsylvania State House. So, you can imagine. it was pungent
all over the place. Not to mention that they were, in fact, drinking beer for breakfast.
Now, the truth of the matter is, most people drank beer for breakfast because it was cleaner
than water. But nonetheless, the fact remains, they were drinking beer for breakfast. And
in fact, you don't actually have to--. I do a pretty lengthy explanation of what actually
transpired during those four months.
And I conclude, and I explain how it all concluded as well, if I can find the page because my
bookmark has disappeared. It's now over here somewhere. Ah, there we go.
Hmm. There we go. So again, after four months. Now we understand how it all happened. Or
rather, almost didn't. The Constitution wasn't only a miracle at Philadelphia, written by
an assembly of demigods.
It was that, but it was also the contrary. What began as a measured, deliberate effort
to rescue a beleaguered country became a perpetual unresolved motion machine--a maddening cycle
of non-binding votes by a parade of toothless committees, marked by fits and starts, fights
and full-stops, conducted by a combative group of exhausted, drunken, broke, petty, partisan,
scheming, squabbling, bloviating, back-stabbing, grandstanding, god-forsaken, posturing, restless,
cow-tipping, homesick, cloistered, claustrophobic, sensory-deprived, under-oxygenated, fed up,
talked out, overheated delegates so distraught and despairing they threatened violence, secession,
foreign allegiance and even prayer.
As Benjamin Franklin said, "and concluded for those who didn't abandon the proceedings
altogether, with as much pre-meditation and forethought as a game of musical chairs. The
last, least abhorrent, mutually somewhat acceptable idea on the table when the music stopped,
or the heat became too unbearable, or the liqueur too strong, or the rioting too loud,
or the pressure too intense, or the company too loathsome, or the wigs too uncomfortable,
or the patience too thin, became the law of the land" as much the product of yes, an assembly
of demigods as yes, some might say a confederacy of what could be dunces on occasion.
From page one, the Constitution is, by its own admission, a great compromise. It is also
what you get when you drink beer for breakfast. Now, amusingly, they didn't just drink beer
for breakfast. I'm actually understating that because the truth of the matter is they drank
a lot of beer at that time. They drank a lot of everything at that time.
The statistics are astounding, but I'll just point this out. When they finally decided
what was gonna be in the Constitution, and they knew they were about to sign it, well,
they threw a party, 'cause they knew that they'd finally be able to bid adieu to each
other. But this is what happened that night. They were about to add their signatures to
an extremely anticipated official document that many of them had extremely mixed feelings
So the delegates did what anyone might do under such pressure. They drank themselves
silly. After they toasted the occasion, they drowned their miseries. They had spent four
months compromising some of their values, perhaps they could drink their guilt away.
They certainly tried. In the span of just a few hours, the 55 men who crowded City Tavern
on Friday, September 14th, 1787, guzzled enough alcohol to fell an Army Regiment.
Sixty bottles of claret. Fifty-four bottles of Madeira. Fifty bottles of old stock. Vats
of porter, cider, and beer, and what has been described as "some" bowls of rum. They weren't
just pledging their sacred honor. They were pledging a frat. So wild did the celebration
get, the City Tavern, a place quite familiar with drunkenness, took the unusual step of
sending along a bill for quote unquote "breakage."
Pretty amusing to me. Honestly, the miracle at Philadelphia is that the Constitution wasn't
written on the back of a bar napkin. That's a big question. Which actually brings me to
my drinking companion, as I had just mentioned. What are the more fortunate accidents really
in getting to research and write this book was getting to have lunch with Justice Scalia.
Now, of course, as you can understand, I wanted to meet with Justice Scalia because I thought
who on the face of the planet, let alone in the country, would really be most amenable
to a page one rewrite of the Constitution? And you gotta assume it's the man who's devoted
his entire life to protecting every phrase, clause, and punctuation in it.
I was a little bit alarmed, or surprised, I guess I should say, that he agreed to meet
with me. But of course, also thrilled that he would. I should also say, of course, the
truth of the matter is that he actually agrees with Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson, who
said the Constitution be rewritten every 19 years.
He doesn't agree with that part, but he agrees with Jefferson that the Constitution is, and
this is his words, "dead." The difference is, between him and Thomas Jefferson, is that
Justice Scalia means dead as a compliment, apparently. He means quit trying to revive
it. He means honor it for what we know it was and adore it for all of those merits.
So, he agreed to meet. And we did, in fact, talk of a lot of things in the Constitution.
But I knew at some point that I would have to turn our attentions to his bread and butter--the
Third Article, the judicial branch, where of course he makes his living. And I had to,
what I hope I do in this book is address the actual issues that people have with the Articles
and Amendments.
My solutions are rather absurd. But I do address the actual issues. And one of the issues that
people have with the Third Amendment, excuse me, the Third Article, the Supreme Court,
is this idea. And when I mention these words, you could see what happened. I broached the
subject and I said, "Well, Justice, Your Honor, you know that some people have a problem with
lifetime ten--."
And as soon as I got to ten--, he picked up a fork, poked it at me and with a devilish
grin said, "Don't you dare. Don't you dare change lifetime tenure. And if you do, at
least grandfather me in because I like my job." Fair enough. But now here's the thing.
The Constitution itself says nothing about Supreme Court Justices having lifetime tenure.
It merely says the Justices shall hold their offices quote unquote "during good behavior."
Now, for a bunch of very good reasons, early on, we decided to interpret that as lifetime
tenure because kings were removing judges willy nilly from the bench. So, they thought,
"Let's go the other way with this." But nonetheless, it doesn't actually say lifetime tenure.
It says merely during good behavior. And I felt it, my job, to say to him, "Well, let's
consider in 2012 whether or not we should really still have lifetime tenure." And he
put down the fork and agreed to listen to me. And this is what transpired when that
[clears throat]
[reads from book] "I don't bother lecturing Justice Scalia on
any of this. After decades of legal study and 25 years of service as one of America's
top Judges, he's been fully briefed. Instead, I begin my cross-examination.
'How about you?' I ask. 'How about me what?' he counters. 'Can you imagine just walking
away?' I ask. 'Of course I can,' he scoffs, with a couldn't care less tone that implies
he'd just as soon leave today if only he hadn't signed a two-year lease on his Supreme Court
locker. 'When?' I ask. Like I've said before, he says, 'As soon as I'm not firing on all
eight cylinders, when I'm not doing the job as well as I used to, it'll be time to go.
'How will you know when that is?'
He looks me straight in the eye. 'I'll know.' 'So, you don't need some outside authority
limiting the term of your servi--?' 'I'm fairly aware of the requirements of the position,'
he interrupts me. 'I'll know when I can no longer fulfill them.' And yet, 'what if I
told you, Your Honor, that someone even more powerful than you says your wrong about that?'
He looks at me. 'And who is that?' 'Someone you know quite well.' He looks at me again,
wondering if he should ask. 'Who?' If this were a case in some courtroom drama, this
is the moment when I would stand slowly, scan the jury, look back at the judge and call
on my surprise witness.
May it please the Courts, I now call to the stand, dramatic pause, the current Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court of the United States. If this were indeed a courtroom drama, the
double doors in the back of the courtroom would fly open. The stenographer would record
the reaction of the gallery.
Audible gasps. And Chief Justice John G Roberts, Jr. would saunter up the aisle, hesitating
only long enough to lock eyes with fellow Justice Scalia and feel his glare. Et tu,
Roberte? Roberts would then explain to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury that no matter
what he says or how he pleads for mercy, Justice Antonin Scalia should have been kicked off
the court exactly ten years ago.
Back in real life, I explain what the hell I'm talking about. When he was a lawyer in
the Reagan White House, 22 years before, he joined the Supremes. John Roberts argued on
behalf of the 15-year term limits for Supreme Court Justices. It was both a pragmatic proposal,
as he saw it. The Founders quote 'adopted life tenure at a time when people simply did
not live as long as they do now' unquote.
And a principled one for many of the reasons I've tried out here at lunch. A judge insulated
from the normal occurrence of life for 25 or 30 years was a rarity then, but is becoming
commonplace today, he wrote in a White House memo. Setting a term of, say, 15 years would
ensure that Federal Judges would not lose all touch with quote reality through decades
of Ivory Tower existence unquote.
It is an indictment of lifetime tenure, too compelling to ignore. As I finished explaining,
one thing becomes clear. Scalia knew nothing of this. 'Is that so?' he asks. 'Has Roberts
thought that?' I have out-lawyered the longest serving Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
'Really? He thought that?' he asks again.
'Yes,' I say, pausing a beat for dramatic effect, 'yes he did.' For a moment, Scalia
seemed speechless. He can muster no defense, even though we're sitting in the National
Gallery, not the Supreme Court, and eating lunch, not arguing case law, I am tempted
to shout, 'The prosecution rests,' slam an imaginary briefcase and march out triumphantly.
But I don't. But I don't. I stay. And Scalia's grin returns. 'Well,' he says, 'I doubt he
does any more.' [laughs] He has a good point. Roberts doesn't think that anymore. When Roberts
himself was asked about his previous comments at his confirmation hearings in 2005, he flip-flopped.
Predictably, his perspective on the issue had evolved.
As the law professor Larry Sabato has eloquently put it, 'On the issue of lifetime tenure,
where one stands depends on where one sits.' Scalia's joke, nonetheless, seems to put him
back on offense. 'So,' he asks. 'So, it was an argument that had stymied me before.' 'So
what?' 'So? Are you going to make me retire with your new Constitution? I mean, I've been
here longer than 15 years.'
Oh, he's not on the attack. He's throwing himself on the mercy of my courts. 'No, sir.
No, sir.' I'm not here to fire Justice Scalia, though I appreciate his acknowledgment of
my authority to do so. 'So, what exactly do you propose?' I thought he'd never ask. 'Simple,'
I say. 'Your new Article Three. The judicial power of the United States shalt be vested
in one Supreme Court and the Judges shall hold their offices during good behavior.'
Scalia seems confused.
'But that's what Article Three already says.' 'Not exactly,' I clarify. 'I drop the u from
behavior to make it more American.'
'But otherwise, that's Article Three of the Constitution.' 'Indeed it is, Your Honor.
Indeed it is.' It was, I was certain, a remedy for Article Three, that an originalist like
Justice Scalia could not help but support.
We take it literally. We revive the original Article and we'll honor it's original language.
Judges shall hold their offices during good behavior. I had him dead to rights. Surely
he, a man who swore by the letter of the law would swear by the letter of this law, that
is, save one letter, to which he owed his entire career. I was proud of my judicial
Thank you. One person, right? Too much.
"'But who,' he asks, 'determines good behavior?' 'Good behavior,' I correct him.
Thank you. He was pronouncing the "u," you're right.
" 'That's what I said,' he says. 'Who gets to decide?' Well, I've anticipated this question.
Scalia listens closely as I propose a judging body composed of three people appointed by
the President, whose sole responsibility is to determine whether the Justices are passing
the good behavior test, as revived by my new Constitution.
He gets what I'm aiming at. 'A Supreme Supreme Court,' he says with a laugh. Scalia is evidently
amused by the idea. I can tell he's not ruling it out. 'Just one question,' he says. I raise
my chin and allow it. 'Yes, Your Honor?' 'How long do they serve?' I hadn't thought of that."
You can probably tell from this, I mean, first of all, he trumped me at every turn, even
when I tried to be funny, he was funnier. When I tried to out-lawyer him, of course
I knew I was in over my head. But when I say that Justice Scalia is funny, it's not just
me saying that. I can say to you right now, Justice Scalia is officially funny.
And in fact, he is officially the funniest Supreme Court Justice on the bench. Now, how
do we know this? We know this because a few years ago, the New York Times actually reported
on this. I guess this was about six or seven years ago. There was a St. Louis Law Review
study that someone had thought to finally, well, they just released a big batch of Supreme
Court transcripts.
And someone thought to count the number of times laughter had been annotated by the stenographer
after a Supreme Court Justice spoke. And by far, Scalia got the most laughs in the chamber.
In fact, he's twice as funny as Steven Breyer you'll be happy to know. Nineteen times funnier
than Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Now, we don't know about Clarence Thomas because Clarence Thomas, as you may or may not know,
has actually not spoken in the chamber for seven years, something like that. So, it's
possible and I think you at Google can appreciate this, it's possible that mathematically speaking,
he is infinitely funny.
It's possible that every time he opens his mouth, it's a killer laugh. He could be in
fact the Patch Adams of the Supreme Court. We don't know. We don't know. Now, people
say, "OK, Kevin. But what do you really think about the Constitution? Are you actually suggesting
through your comic jeremiad here that the Constitution should be scrapped and sold for
parts and start it over from scratch?"
And that's a fair question. And as I said before, the butler, I don't wanna spoil it
too much, but I will say the butler didn't do it entirely. Perhaps, it was an accomplice.
And I'll read to you the final section of the book. It's not, I'm not spoiling it for
you. So, you can still pick up a copy later and enjoy the interior part.
But this is essentially how I wrap up that I think you'll enjoy. Keeping in mind the
story about the Liberty Bell. So, this is a bit of a book end.
[reads from book] "Their beloved stamp was in jeopardy. It had
been designed carefully and artfully, graced not only with a stately visage of an adored
and enduring national icon, but also with the denomination chosen to reflect just how
long it would last. Nay, how long it should last. Forever. A forever stamp.
It was 2011, 125 years after the statue it featured had been dedicated as a gift from
France as a memorial to independence. Liberty enlightening the world. And to honor her long
journey across seas and centuries, three billion stamps had been printed by the Patriots at
the United States Postal Service.
Two billion had already been issued. Countless licked or peeled and stuck and sent far across
town, across the country, and around the globe to enlighten the world one envelope at a time.
Alas, forever wouldn't last forever. One eagle-eyed philatelist, armed only with a jeweler's loupe,
a rabid obsession with detail, and way too much time on his hands made a shocking discovery.
The lady on the stamp wasn't the 305 foot copper and iron neoclassical figure standing
sentry on an island in New York Harbor. No, sir. The lady on the stamp was the pint-sized
knock-off on the Las Vegas strip, overlooking not New York, New York, but the New York,
New York casino. She hadn't welcomed the huddled masses yearning to breathe free in the New
She welcomed obsessive gamblers yearning to sidle up to the three 99 All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.
Less the stuff of immigrants' hopes and dreams--a real-life Lady Liberty--more the stuff of
fiberglass and Styrofoam, a replica Lady Luck. In other words, are you telling me we've got
three billion of these?
Now, a small discolored rectangle that mars her crown's most prominent center spike--after
all, the real Lady Liberty wouldn't be caught dead with such a blemish--was the tall-tale
giveaway. Someone, somewhere had merely raided a stock photography service and thought, 'Yeah,
that seems about right.
It must be her. And if it's not, I doubt anyone will notice.' Someone noticed. Once alerted
to its gaffe, the United States Postal Service released an official statement, but not of
apology, of adoration. Quote 'We still love the stamp design and would've selected the
photograph anyway.' They admitted no defeat, made no excuses, announced no recall.
They also--it must be said--made me proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm
free to pretend I totally meant to do that. Even when I totally screwed up. After all,
what was the Postal Service to do? Should it deny it made a mistake as original author
James Madison might have wished in that summer of 1787?
And yes, as Antonin Scalia might still advise today. Should it recall the stamp and continue
living in the past? That was the unfortunate choice Jonathan Dayton made in his later years
when he, the youngest delegate at the Constitutional Convention, stayed so fixated on his participation
in Philadelphia that he never once updated even his manner of dress. The Last of the
Cocked Hats, they called him.
A walking example of arrested development. Or should it make a bold, wholesale makeover
in a staggering miraculous flurry of glorious inspiration as I, Kevin Bleyer, your hero
and humble servant have done in these pages? Well, even if it should, it didn't.
Instead of promising a more perfect stamp, the Postal Service insisted the stamp was
a more perfect stamp, one that, despite injuries and usurpations brought on by a sloppy postal
researcher, still secures the blessings of the Liberty as we know her--life-size and
in full. It interpreted the advice of Thomas Jefferson--that we not look at stamps, or
anything really, with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant.
And of James Madison, too, that we not suffer a blind veneration for antiquity, as something
slightly different--that we should just get over ourselves, stick with the program, and
meet at the craps table. Baby needs a new pair of shoes. The lesson shines forth as
bright and unmistakable as the flame in Lady Liberty's outstretched hand.
Sometimes, in order to honor an icon that defines us as a nation, whether it be a giant
green woman holding a torch, or a Constitution of the United States of America, we should
just roll with what we've got because it's still pretty damn awesome."
So, I would say, now that I've justified this book's existence, my new Constitution's existence,
to Justice Scalia, of course to you here at Google and around the world, I'll just conclude
with this thought before I answer a couple of your, what I hope will be, softball questions.
And you're probably asking yourself, "Kevin, alright. But does the world really need yet
another book about a guy who single-handedly rewrote the Constitution by himself?" And
I would say yes. Yes, it does because, ladies and gentlemen, the Constitution, I don't need
to tell you, is hot. Like Hunger Games hot.
Like 50 Shades of Gray hot. In fact, Jon Stewart called my book "Fifty Shades of Red, White,
and Blue." I'm very thankful. Here's why. People are quoting it, even though they haven't
read it. People are hiding behind it, even though they're not quite sure what it says.
And as a piece of literature, the only thing that would make the Constitution hotter I
tell you, was if James Madison were a vampire.
It is so popular that right now, somewhere in America, yes, a thousand Tea Partiers are
misquoting it. It's so amazing that somewhere yes, Kanye West is interrupting an acceptance
speech to insist that it should've won. It's so exciting that somewhere, oh boy, Anthony
Weiner is tweeting pics of himself having just read it.
Which is why, on behalf of America, I have paid every price for every burden and yes,
saved every receipt in my quest to assure survival. "And why now?" you ask. Well, at
a time when Michelle Bachmann believes that the Battles of Lexington and Concord were
fought in New Hampshire, at a time when Sarah Palin believes Paul Revere made his midnight
ride to warn the British that we were armed, and a time when yes, John Boehner believes
that we hold these truths to be self-evident is his favorite part of the Constitution,
even though it's the Declaration of Independence, it shouldn't be too hard to believe this,
that I, Kevin Bleyer, having no qualifications, am the most qualified man to rewrite the Constitution
of the United States.
I do hope, if you get it, you enjoy it. And if you do, I hope you help me ratify it. Thank
you very much. I'm happy to take a few questions if we have anything, I think we have five
or ten minutes before we have to wrap up. So, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Thank you. I guess there's a couple microphones even in the aisle. Ah, here's. No? No. OK.
[laughs] Caught ya. Caught you, too. Saw that. Alright. Well, anyway, thank you very much.
It's been much appreciated. Oh, there we go. There we go.
>>Male #1: What, I'm curious, I will get the book.
>>Kevin: Yeah, yeah.
>>Male #1: But I was curious about your treatment of the four limited times to secure their
works and--.
>>Kevin: I couldn't hear you. Sorry.
>>Male #1: Copyright and clause.
>>Kevin: I do address a little bit under the free, in the First Amendment, a little bit.
But I don't get into the nitty gritty the way I'm sure the people at Google in here
would appreciate. But here's one, two thoughts I would say to you. First of all, to be exhaustive
to rewrite every Preamble, every Article, and every Amendment, I have to do a little
bit of cherry-picking.
But what I love is going through, be on this book tour, especially getting people's suggestions
as to what should be in the paperback version. So, I actually could address that as well.
And not to mention more broadly, I love this because I don't pretend to know all the answers.
I only pretend to know all the answers.
So, I'm sure people at Google will probably have some good suggestions for me as far as
how I should address copyright issues in the next version, which I shall write in at least
19 years as Thomas Jefferson told me to. Yes, please.
>>Male #2: So, the one question I have, I have a bunch, but I think the things I'm most
curious about are, what did you find most surprising about reading the document? What
do you feel like is something that a lot of Americans in general would be surprised to
know is in the Constitution?
>>Kevin: Just how, for lack of a better word, dysfunctional, I guess is the regular word
the Constitutional Convention itself was. I mean, it was a maddening cycle of compromise,
like I told you.
We know of it as the Great Compromise, but we don't know that they did not make any decisions
on what was going to be in the Constitution until the very last minute. And that was merely
because they were so sick of each other. They kept trying and trying over again and they
didn't address the Executive Branch until the middle of the summer.
And even when they did, the famous phrase is when they brought it up, a considerable
pause ensued. In other words, no one had any idea how to design the Presidency. They literally
started writing the Constitution before they decided what was going to be in it. They got
so sick of each other that they established an even smaller committee, "style and arrangement"
they called it.
That was a group of, I forget, five or ten people. But they would at night essentially
say, "Well, here's this. Let's give this a shot." And then the next morning, they said,
"How does this look? Does it look good?" And they would actually vote on that. it's ultimately
what they did. So, it's surprising to me that while we know, of course, they were debating,
we didn't know that people like Luther Martin were getting so drunk in the morning that
he would give a six-hour speech and derail the Constitutional Convention for two days.
It's pretty astounding. That actual part of history was the most surprising to me. I really
enjoyed learning about it. And I think the joy in learning about it hopefully is manifest
on pages.
>>Male #2: Thank you.
>>Kevin: Thank you. Alright. Well, again, I really appreciate it. Thank you so much
for coming out and sharing your lunch hour with me.
Thanks a lot. Thank you very much.