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Savoy’s 20 Questions with Steve Mount – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

Savoy’s 20 Questions with Steve Mount

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[Editor’s note: this interview with the Webmaster of this site appeared in
the online magazine Savoy in its December, 1998 edition. Savoy is now defunct.
This page is a reproduction of that interview. The original is no longer
avaliable on the Internet, so far as I can tell.]

I first ran across Steve Mount’s USConstitution.net Web site while
researching an editorial for Savoy. Though I found the site intriguing, I
quickly forgot it until Constitution Day, when I needed a link for the Savoy
Today page.

On my second exposure, I realized the site was not the work of an
organization, but the brainchild of an individual, and obviously a labor of
love. I became acquainted with its creator via email and found him to be an
engaging, intelligent fellow.

Steve Mount is a computer programmer and former political science major who
lives in Williston, Vermont. What follows are his answers to the Big 20.


1

On your Web site, you say that you are a former student of political
science. How did this background contribute to your creating the
USConstitution.net site?

It was half the impetus. When the Web first became known to those outside
the scientific community, I dabbled with Mosaic and Lynx to see what it was all
about. When Prodigy (of which I was a member back then) allowed users to put
personal pages on line, I started with a small “Here’s me!” type page. I wanted
to put something a bit more substantial on, to get experience with HTML and
with this new Web thing. My non-computer interests lie in politics and American
history, so the Constitution was a natural choice.

2

Why the U.S. Constitution? Why not another in-your-face political Web
‘zine or partisan party-line commentary?

The Constitution, because of its brevity, let me start out small. Plus, this
was 1995, when things like online ‘zines were nascent at best; and I wasn’t
interest in partisan politics online. By starting with just the text of the
document, I was able to slowly add to it. What was a page is now a site, with
dozens of pages, a message board (home-grown software, by the way), a FAQ,
special expanded topics, and other historical documents. Each of these things
was added in stages, rather than in one fell swoop.

3

Term limits? Why or why not?

Term limits are okay for Presidents – there’s so much power that eight years
seems enough. But I don’t support term limits for any other national office.
There is power in experience. You don’t make doctors stop practicing after four
years.

4

One gets the impression, viewing your Web site, that you have a strong
sense of community and community service. Would this be an accurate assessment?
If so, how did this impact your decision to put the Constitution on-
line?

I do see the Web as a unique opportunity to not only enhance the sense of
community we have now but also to create a new community. And I do take
pleasure in serving those communities. This didn’t impact my decision to put
the Constitution on-line, but it did influence my decision to bring it up from
more than just a single page of the text. When my page started getting hits, I
started getting questions from people about the Constitution. The answers were
all one-way, with no one sharing in them except the person who asked – so I
started the message board, which I hoped would allow people to read what others
had asked, and from time to time spark some dialog. And that’s what it has
done. I have many people read the messages daily (according to my hit stats),
and I know some people come back again and again, because they pipe in with
their own opinions.

5

Has the recent scandal surrounding President Clinton increased interest
in the Constitution (and in the Web site)?

It has definitely sparked interest, and it definitely sparked a rise in hits
on my site. I went from about 2200 hits per day, on average, to over 3000; a
few days, it hit 4000, right around the time of the Starr report. It has since
calmed down again. The beginning of the school year bumped up my hit count,
too, but both the new school year and the Starr report happened in September,
so I’m not sure which had a larger effect.

6

Exxon, Gulf or Texaco? (Note to readers: Visit Steve’s gas prices pages
for an explanation.)

None of the above – Mobil’s Speedpass is just too easy to pass up.

7

In your opinion, which of the Constitution framers had the greatest
impact on the document?

Gouverneur Morris had the greatest impact on what we read today, since he is
largely recognized as the man who wrote all or most of the words of the final
draft. But Madison has to be the biggest influence, in my opinion. His Virginia
Plan started the whole process.

8

Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison: advertising geniuses or
political savants?

You’re referring to the authors of the Federalist Papers, letters that
appeared in New York newspapers to support the ratification of the new
Constitution. They were in response to the Anti-Federalist Papers that were
opposed to ratification. These men were most definitely political savants. The
Papers give us a unique insight into the thinking of the times of ratification.
Advertising geniuses, too, perhaps, both only insofar as they appealed to the
literate populace of the time. The Papers wouldn’t win any ADDY Awards
today.

9

Vladimir Posner, former spokesman for Gorbachev during the era of Soviet
glastnost, once said that America owes its remarkably long-lived democratic
republic to the flexibility of the Constitution. Would you agree with his
observation?

Absolutely. The Constitution actually lends itself to interpretation, and
has since its first days, when the constitutionality of a national bank was
debated during Washington’s administration. Some constitutions are so rigid
that it takes a revolution or civil war to change them. It was said that the
U.S. would have had a civil war over the Articles of Confederation if the more
forward-thinking individuals of the time had not agreed to creating a new
system of government.

10

Many Americans feel it’s time for a new Constitution, that the present
document is archaic. Would you agree?

I agree that parts of it are archaic. But it has sustained us as a nation
for over 200 years, and tinkering with it seems dangerous to me. I don’t think
we would get as flexible a document as we have now. Too many special interests
would look to language in a new constitution; too many compromises. I don’t
even support modernizing the language contained in the Constitution; words can
be so strong, can have so much meaning, that any wholesale changes would open a
Pandora’s box.

11

Douglas MacArthur based a large portion of the Japanese Constitution on
the American document when he was framing it. Do you think the Constitution has
a universal application? Is it the model for representative democracy
throughout the world?

It is said that no constitution formed since that of the United States
Constitution does not have in it something influenced by the United States
Constitution. That is to say, there must be a universality of the concepts
therein. Individual freedom. Restricted government. Governmental stability.
These are universal concepts. It is probably not much of a coincidence that the
United Nations Declaration of Human Rights also mirrors our own Bill of
Rights.

12

Greater revolutionary: Samuel Adams or Che Guevara?

Well, if success as a revolutionary is any indication of ones greatness as a
revolutionary, then Adams wins over Geuvara hands-down. Adams fought for a
nation that eventually became the greatest on Earth. Geuvara fought for a
nation that was used as a pawn in a great power struggle between two
superpowers, and once the thrill of the Cuban revolution wore out, he went to
Bolivia to stir up trouble, where he was promptly shot. Perhaps if Geuvara had
lived longer… but Adams’s own influence waned when it became clear that his
ultimate objectives were too far away from what everyone else felt was the
right direction (he thought the Articles of the Confederation gave the federal
government too much power … but he mellowed and helped pass the Constitution
in Massachusetts).

13

Why a fascination with science fiction? (Mount maintains the Mos Eisley
Spaceport, a site dedicated to Star Wars.)

When I was in high school, I devoured science fiction. I was 10 or 11 when
Star Wars came out, and I had all the play figures. All my friends were into
Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar: Galactica; Spiderman, the Hulk, Thor. So when
I looked to books, and away from TV and comics, I turned to the sci-fi novel. I
wish I had more time to read nowadays.

14

We noticed that Court TV linked to USConstitution.net. You’re discussing
the advent of trials as entertainment and trial through media with Thomas
Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Are they
pleased or appalled?

Madison and Washington would likely have been appalled. But I suspect
perhaps Jefferson, and certainly Franklin, would have been, if not pleased, at
least intrigued.

15

Abraham Lincoln believed that the Constitution empowered him to preserve
the Union at all cost. Would you agree?

It is hard to agree with such an absolute, but for the most part I think it
imperative that the Union be preserved. It isn’t that we cannot stand
dissension, but that reasonable and honorable people can come to agreement and
compromise that is reasonable and honorable. The Civil War may have been an
inevitability, given the issues that came to a head – states rights and human
rights; but I think that the outcome was also inevitable. The Union would have
kept fighting to destroy the Confederacy until there was no one left to fight –
the principles were too weighty to give up. Today, I doubt we would ever have
to go to such extremes. I certainly hope not, given the carnage of the first
Civil War.

16

We ask the following question of all our guests: What are you currently
reading? If we barged in on your break at work, what book would you have to put
down?

I’m reading two, one for business, one for pleasure: On Reading the
Constitution, by Laurence Tribe; and Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein.

17

What would you say is the Constitution’s finest hour?

I think the Roe v. Wade decision, despite the can of worms it opened up in
the abortion debate, ensured the right to privacy that I think we all feel we
have, or at least should have. It was predicated by a few other Supreme Court
decisions that were stepping stones to Roe, both of which dealt with birth
control: the Griswold and Eisenstadt decisions. Funny how sex can lead to such
a fundamental right. Also, the history of tolerance and enlightenment can be
seen in the amendments: abolition of slavery, racial suffrage, women’s
suffrage, 18-year-old suffrage.

18

You’re sitting with the powdered wigs during the signing of the
Constitution. Which do you want the most, air conditioning or Ban
Roll-On?

Give me a strong A/C vent, and I can stand a little body odor.

19

In your opinion, will the Constitution survive into the next
millennium?

Yes. It has survived quite some turmoil in the past 200 years. The
present-day presidential scandal is nothing compared to some of the other
scandals we’ve survived in that time. It has a solid framework for a working
government and solid guarantees of human rights and freedoms. It will survive,
particularly if more people will read it and pledge to uphold it.

20

You’re a computer programmer. Windows 2000 or Linux? (We couldn’t
resist.)

My heart is with Linux, my mind is with Win2000. I’d like to see them
coexist – more money for ambidextrous programmers that way.