Monday, January 14, 2008

Mickey Edwards on the Constitution and the Presidency -- Part 3

By Carol Gee

Mickey Edwards found out how to reach across the political aisle to me, a Progressive Democrat. Don't we wish there were more like him? This is the third and last post in my series focusing on what an old-fashioned Conservative, with a capital "C," thinks about the George W. Bush legacy.

An outstanding program was presented by former U.S. Representative Mickey Edwards, (R-OK), January 7, 2008, at The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars and broadcast on C-SPAN. Edwards' lecture focused on the U.S.Constitution and the current presidential races.

Mickey Edwards is a Constitutional scholar and journalist who wrote a yet to be released book, "Reclaiming Conservatism: How a Great American Political Movement Got Lost--And How It Can Find Its Way Back." Currently a Vice President at the Aspen Institute and on the faculty at Princeton, Edwards served as a Republican U.S. Representative from Oklahoma from 977-1993. He was on the Appropriations Committee and in the Republican leadership.

I took four pages of notes during the broadcast which I am presenting here in essay form, as I have in the past with congressional hearings. I paraphrase Edwards when I did not get exact quotes. I have also developed a number of links that relate to the material Edwards presented that lend standing to his points. And I have rearranged his points for flow and clarity. I have tried for as much accuracy as I can, because he presented important material in a brilliant manner.

Part 3 --

The 2008 presidential election -- Regarding the current criticism of Barack Obama’s “vision over specifics:” Edwards says, “Hooray for him.”

Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe was the one who discovered how widespread the Bush use of presidential signing statements is [and won the Pulitzer for it]. In his recent article he asked all the current presidential candidates what they would do regarding signing statements.

People need to ask the current candidates this question: “Where do you understand the limits of your powers to be?”

Some will say that the current threats mean that “We need a strong leader.” Professor Richard Neustadt says that such strength is embodied in a power to persuade, the power to stir the people.

Today is actually not an unprecedented threat for the U.S. In 1776 if Britain and France had combined forces against America we could have easily been defeated. In the face of even that possibility, the founding fathers decided we would not have a monarch. The other point is that in a time of unprecedented threat, isn’t there a risk in having only one person be the decider? We need more heads than just one. What if that one is of sub-par intelligence?

The U.S. needs to defend itself, of course. And we may even need to curtail liberties for a short time. But that is a decision to be made by the representatives of the people. We said yes back in the ‘70’s, but that such surveillance can only be done if the executive branch goes before a court to get the authority.

When asked who among the current candidates would be the strongest, Edwards first said, “none of the above.” He also said, however, that we will have plenty of opportunity to evaluate people over time. He then added that he would take a lot of heat for saying it, but would have to chose Hillary Clinton. Edwards likened some candidates to Henry V, including Rudy Giuliani “and perhaps McCain.”

He said that “reaching across the political aisle would be essential,” naming Obama, McCain or Huckabee as the strongest in that area. Edwards continued saying that the next president just cannot insist on going it alone. He or she will have to build support. The President can have a big influence of members of Congress. The President should meet regularly with the leadership of Congress before coming out with any program. Edwards said the Bush tried only to reach out to his Republican base, and that he actually does not know who that is.

In conclusion, Edwards also pointed out that “Bush has no problem trying to get Middle East leaders such as Olmert and Abbas to shake hands, but would not think of doing the same with Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner.”

And I say in conclusion that in 2008 I hope to discover more common ground with thoughtful people of good will who care about the Constitution with an admirable passion. Doing that will be balm on wounds of eight years of the current administrations divisiveness, fear mongering, and irrational thinking that is unprecedented in our history. It will take a while to recover, but I believe we must begin this year.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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