Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Shifting Blame with False Equivalencies

I’ve read about the similarities between prisons and schools, between prisoners and students. A few common elements are:
  • Prisons and many schools have easily secured entrances and exits.
  • Both places serve foods high in carbohydrates to sedate the people therein.
  • Both places set clothing standards for the people therein.
  • In each place, prisoners and students move within boundaries, confined by an agenda for activities approved by officials and experts.
But an analogy that presents prisons and schools as the same is a false equivalency. Students, with parental permission, can leave at any time during the day. They can be absent due to illness, family events, and medical appointments. They enjoy regular breaks from school, and every day, throughout the school year, they leave, going home, to jobs, and to recreation. Prisons offer none of these options, and prisoners cannot decide when to leave or when to attend.

For decades now, we’ve participated in a false equivalency about leadership, assigning both praise and blame to the president while allowing Congress to fly under our radar. I think we need to reconsider.

First, the Constitution establishes three branches of government, each with its own responsibilities. According to Article 2, Sections 2 and 3 of the Constitution, the President shall be:

  • Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
  • He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
  • He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.
Simply stated, the President has limited power and must share some power with the Senate. He does not have Constitutional authority to make or break the economy, to establish law, or to ignore law duly authorized by Congress.

Congress, on the other hand, has broader powers. According to Article 1, Section 8, Congress shall have:
  • … Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
  • To borrow money on the credit of the United States;
  • To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
  • To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
  • To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
  • To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
  • To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;
  • To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
  • To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
  • To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;
  • To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
  • To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
  • To provide and maintain a Navy;
  • To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
  • To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
  • To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
  • To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And
  • To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
Three bullets for a President versus eighteen for Congress. Eighteen enumerated powers for Congress, powers that include collecting taxes to pay debt, defend the nation, and provide for the general welfare. A president has a Constitutional duty to recommend to Congress measures he or she deems necessary and expedient, but he has no authority to implement those measures. Only Congress can do that.

So budget woes, veterans’ affairs, health and human services rest at the feet of Congressmen and women, in the arms of the Senate. They are responsible for and have a duty also to borrow money in behalf of the nation, regulate international trade, coin money, establish post offices, promote scientific progress, and to protect copyright and patents for the sciences and arts.

Has Congress neglected its Constitutional duties? It would seem so. Yet the Office of the President has become the target for blame. It’s the President’s agenda. It’s the President’s spending. It’s the President’s overreach. It’s the President’s religion, race, birthright and more while Congress dons its Invisibility Cloak, leaving only the index finger exposed, necessary to redirect blame.

While I recognize that much has evolved over time, the foundation remains strong. The President has more influence, but his or her ability to make law and balance budgets just doesn’t exist without the cooperation and collaboration of Congress. A President may veto, but he cannot create.

Congress is guilty of sloth, of being derelict, of neglecting to uphold its Constitutional duty by and for the American people. If you want this nation to grow and prosper, call your Congressmen and women--please.