I’m not much of a golfer. Indeed, despite playing golf occasionally for more than 60 years and having had a few lessons, I am a lousy golfer. My diagnosis of this disability is that the slow pace of the game allows too much time for thinking, and my head swells with thoughts of all the things I should be doing or should not be doing, thus overwhelming whatever intuitive knowledge resides in muscle memory. Consequently, I have never played competitive golf, other than the biannual gathering of my high school buddies when those who attended Wilson (my junior high) drub Roosevelt (the other junior high). These Wilson v. Roosevelt matches do not really count as competitive golf, since we play a version of “best ball” enabling my worst shots—an assortment of duffs, slices, hooks, powder-puff drives, and shots that land in deep roughs, sand traps, creeks, and ponds—to be ignored by using the better shots of my teammates. Still, the rules by which we play mandate that Wilson must use one of my drives on each nine, but even in these situations, I might use my allotted mulligan, giving me a second chance to put my drive somewhere in play so that it does not hurt my team too much.
If you are not a golfer, you might not know that a mulligan is a “do-over,” a second chance to correct one’s initial mistake. Serious golfers do not allow mulligans, but I am not a serious golfer. To prepare for an upcoming Wilson-Roosevelt match, I usually go by myself to McCauslin Brook, the easy links about five miles from our cabin in northern Wisconsin, where I proceed to play mulligans on every shot. Even if my first shot is pretty good (by my low standards), I hit another for practice; after all, I haven’t kept score in years and so taking such liberties does not matter.
But other sports have rules regarding mulligans that do matter. One thing I like about tennis is that players are always granted a second serve. Perhaps giving baseball batters three strikes amounts to granting hitters two mulligans, but that is not really like giving tennis players a second serve. In the case of baseball, granting both pitchers and hitters multiple balls and strikes is part of the rules and strategy of the game. Perhaps the same can be said for granting tennis players a second serve, but the second serve in tennis is much more a rule of forgiveness intended to ensure that rallies can commence and the fun of running down shots and winning points can take place.
Second serves—the do-overs that are part of the rules of tennis—are pretty unique in sports. In pickleball, players have only one chance to get their serve in. Quarterbacks in football are not allowed a second chance to nullify an interception or to not overthrow their targets. Basketball players are only given a second chance for a “put back” if they earn it, by rebounding their own missed shots. While there are a few (field) events in track where athletes are given multiple chances to throw the shot put or the discus as far as they can or to jump as high and far as they can, races do not grant runners a second chance if they stumble out of the starting blocks, trip over a hurdle, or even are interfered with by another competitor. Tennis is the sport where mulligans are a big part of the rules.
During my lifetime, taking and allowing mulligans has become much more prominent outside of sports. Divorces and second (or third or fourth) marriages are now much more common and accepted than in the past. Students who mess up their exams or assignments are now much more likely to expect—and receive—second chances than in my school days. People are now much more likely than in the past to send back what they initially ordered at a restaurant when they find their initial choice less appealing than those of others at their table.
Mulligans have long had a place in politics. Many states and localities have granted citizens the right to mulligans by allowing them to collect recall petitions that, if they meet certain requirements, provide for a new election. The U.S. Constitution provides no opportunities for such do-overs when we elect our presidents, but instead provides for impeachment as a quasi-mulligan. Since impeachment is left to representatives rather than to voters, it is not a complete do-over, but insofar as impeachment, as conceived by the framers of the Constitution, is more a political than a legal process, it can give those subject to a corrupt and poor ruler the opportunity to correct their initial mistake. The next election may be too long to wait to undo our choosing initially an incompetent leader, a dangerous demagogue, or a corrupt tyrant. But in our current highly polarized and partisan environment, too many Congressmembers charged with the responsibilities of acting as representatives of the people and safeguarding our democratic institutions will ignore those responsibilities. When two parties are pitted in an enduring struggle for power, the members of that party aligned with the president think their interests are better served by looking past the dangers that lurk by retaining a poor leader than by admitting that the president has transgressed or ignored long-standing Constitutional, legal, and democratic norms.
In Federalist 85, Alexander Hamilton admitted that impeachment was not a procedure that was likely to fix initial electoral mistakes. The requirement of attaining a supermajority in the Senate enables a minority of partisans aligned with a bad president to keep him in office, so that political mulligans can only be effectively had through reelections. But do provisions for reelections provide for the political mulligans that the citizens of a republic require? Unfortunately, the Constitutional rules and the various practices that have evolved over the past 230 years have stacked the deck against removing dangerous demagogues from office even by electoral means.
For the past year, I have been working on a book, The Twenty-Eighth Amendment? Beyond Abolishing the Electoral College. Its major premise is that it’s time for a Constitutional mulligan. We need a Constitutional amendment that revises the structures and processes of presidential elections, making it less likely that they will result in the need for do-overs and making reelections less likely to result in repetitions of earlier mistakes.
I thought writing this book would be simple and not take much time, but that has not been the case. I have had to take a lot of mulligans in writing this book, not just to fix writing shortcomings but to correct political and even Constitutional misinterpretations that I’ve made along the way. Now with the book set to be launched, I recognize some aspects of the book that would be improved by yet further mulligans. But at some point, one simply has to play the ball where it lies. I regard the version of The Twenty-Eight Amendment? that will soon be available on Amazon (and other such sites) as the “best shot” that I can currently make. It does not lie in the deep rough. It’s playable. But the question mark in the title indicates my sensibility that perfect shots are no more likely in politics than in golf. My hope is that some of you will read my book and have some suggestions for how my lie can be improved.
While that way of putting my feelings about my book coincides nicely with my golf metaphor, it can, of course, be regarded as an unfortunate choice of words, if it suggests that my book has the same misrepresentations and lies that have become all too familiar in our current presidential practices and contests. So, let me try a different phrasing: I hope that others will partner with me, providing better shots. Perhaps through a series of “best balls,” we—meaning all those who believe that the game of politics should be played under democratic rules having widespread public consent—can score pars or better as we play (and replay) the treacherous course we are on.