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Edwards: Constitutional Truths Not Found on Google

Perhaps the Senator simply ran a word search and not finding the word “veto” in the document failed to examine whether the vetoing power might have been spelled out with alternative language. Too much Google, perhaps, and not enough civics. Sadly, actually knowing what the Constitution says is becoming an ever-rarer phenomenon. I first noticed this strange lapse a couple of years ago when a prominent historian told a large audience in Aspen that our system of government differs from that of Great Britain because in Britain the head of state and the head of government are positions held by separate individuals whereas in the United States, one person holds both.

I naturally wondered who that one person is.

The president is the head of state (the official representative of the United States to other governments of the world), but unlike Britain, where the powers of the executive and legislative branches are commingled and the prime minister wears both hats, here the powers are divided and most of the major ones (spending, taxing, approving treaties and judges, creating or ending public programs, etc.) are in the legislature.

The president has the greatest platform for the exercise of leadership, but he heads nothing other than his one branch of government that is entirely dependent on the will of Congress for both law and money.

Some scholars have proposed a stronger executive, one who would be more like a head of government, but that is not the case today, and it is no longer surprising to me that even a noted historian would have such an inadequate understanding of the constitutional system.

So while I initially recoil at misstatements — and misunderstandings — such as the ones by Maloney and Kerry, I now simply roll my eyes and wonder, as former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor so often does, when we will again concern ourselves with teaching what we used to call “social studies.” A little less emphasis on “social” and a little more on “studies” would seem to be in order.

Former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.) served in the House of Representatives from 1977 to 1993. He is on the board of directors of the Constitution Project.

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