Our founders created a unique system of self-government in which we ourselves select those who are going to make our laws, and we hold them accountable. —Mickey Edwards
PROVO — It is up to the people of the United States to keep the Constitution alive, taught former Oklahoma Rep. Mickey Edwards at the Brigham Young University campus forum Tuesday, Sept. 23.
Edwards, a founding member of the Heritage Foundation and former professor at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, opened his remarks by quoting Benjamin Franklin, who was asked following the Constitutional Convention what he had given the country.
“A republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin replied.
“My concern,” Edwards told the students in the Marriott Center, “is whether or not we can keep it. There is no question in my mind that we are the nation at the top of the hill. Whether or not we are still that shining city at the top of the hill is not quite so certain.”
He explained that the Constitution and the United Sates government are still very young, and the survival of the Constitution is uncertain. The question, he posed, is not if the government will survive the great threats from the outside world, but “whether our system will survive us.”
He recognized the United States as being different and an exception from other nations, “not because we are stronger or wiser or exempt from the rules and laws of the country," he said, “but because we are a different kind of nation. We’re a nation set up to honor the dignity, the rights, of every single individual human being.”
But it is the honoring of those rights that Edwards is concerned about. The United States government was designed to be run by the people.
“We live in a community of shared responsibilities and shared obligations,” he continued. “But we’ve also created a system of government that lays out that the American is not a subject of government, but a citizen. And there’s a big difference because governments tell their subjects what to do and citizens tell their governments what to do.”
The head of government is not the president, but the three separate, but equal, branches of government that have been given authority to act in behalf of the people.
“Our founders created a unique system of self-government in which we ourselves select those who are going to make our laws, and we hold them accountable,” Edwards said. It works “by delegating authority to legislators whose appointment we decide and by prohibiting the concentration of power into the hands of any single individual or in the hands of a small group of individuals.”
Edwards said his fear is letting the power accumulate in the hands of the chief executive. He told of unprecedented claims of power during the time of President George W. Bush and the potential erosion of Congress with President Barack Obama’s announcement last month to bypass the Senate in consideration of a climate-change treaty.
“And what happened when the president said to the Senate of the United States, ‘I’m just going to go around you?’ The Senate majority leader didn’t open his mouth, not a peep, not to defend the Congress, the Senate, the process, the democratic principles; if the president wanted to go around Congress because the majority leader liked the outcome that he was proposing, then that’s what they would do,” Edwards said.
He also expressed concern that the government is moving toward the British system that it once rejected.
“Under the British system you did not need to be from the place you were supposedly representing, and our founders said, 'No, you’re not going to be representing a party, you’re going to be representing the people that elected you.' ... We are moving more and more to a system in which Democrats and Republicans feel obligated to support those from their parties, not members of a separate branch of government to be kept in check as the Constitution envisions but as the captain of their team to whom partisanship demands unquestioning loyalty.”
The Constitution envisioned choosing members of Congress inhabiting the states they would represent so the people know their representatives, Edwards explained.
He put up flags of caution for the current political parties. The Founding Fathers were against them, he said. Republicans are all on one side and Democrats are all on the other side of politics, hindering progress.
“Increasingly today, in both houses of Congress, the party in the majority, whoever it is, blocks consideration of alternatives, blocks amendments, blocks other proposals. There is more actual serious debate in a social studies classroom in Provo High School than on the floor of either the United States House or Senate,” he said.
Edwards said the government and the Constitution are blessings that the current Republic doesn’t understand.
“James Madison and the rest of Congress gave us a blessing, a government in which the people would be citizens, not subjects and that is disappearing,” he said.
Edwards closed his remarks with a challenge for the students.
“We have created a Republic that doesn’t understand the Constitution,” he said. “We cannot save this constitutional republic of ours unless we create at the same time, a people committed to this form of government and willing to stand up to save it.
“The founders created it. Saving it is up to us.”
Amber Clayson is a communications graduate from BYU and currently writes for the LDS Church News and Mormon Times. Email: [email protected].