A civics lesson

We the People

I would like to take a break from my usual technology focus to talk about civics.  With the United States presidential election in full swing, I think it is important to take a minute and remember what we are really voting for.  I strongly encourage all American voters to read and understand the Constitution.  That said, I would like to point out a few things that the media and candidates seem to want you to forget:

  • The President does not have the power to wage war; only Congress may declare war and must fund it.  The President is the Commander in Chief of all armed forces, so once Congress declares war the President is responsible for prosecuting that war.
  • Only a member of the House of Representatives may initiate a “Bill for raising Revenue”. In other words, neither Senators nor the President can raise or lower taxes on anybody without a member of the House starting the process.  The “President’s tax plan” is, at best, a request or recommendation to the House.
  • The President may not sign any treaty (including international trade treaties) without the consent of the Senate.  Only Congress has the power to regulate “Commerce with foreign Nations”
  • The President may appoint Supreme Court Justices, members of the Cabinet, and other Officers of the United States, but they require the consent of the Senate to take office.
  • Only Congress may use the money in the Treasury; the President can only spend that which Congress first authorized by law.

My point is that the President can not really do much without the consent of Congress.  Yet the media, the candidates, the parties all like to imply that after the election all of the new President’s wishes will come true.  They use that to bolster their own position or try to scare you away from the other candidate.

We focus so much attention and scrutiny on every word that the candidates say, every action they have ever taken, analyze every moment from the primaries to election day.  We carefully consider our choice for President, then go and vote “party lines” on every other election.

Did you know that you are represented by 2 Senators and 1 Representative?  Can you name them?  One of them?  Do you know what that person stands for?  If they have ever declared bankruptcy or been investigated by Congress?  (I’m not proud to admit that I can’t answer these questions either.)

Amendment X of the Constitution reads “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  This means that anything not explicitly listed as a Federal right in the Constitution is governed by the states.  Do you know how you are represented in your state?  Have you ever considered who you are voting for in statewide elections?  Can you name your Governor?

As voters we all have an awesome right and responsibility to choose who sets the rules that we live by.  We are not powerless, but we are often mindless.  The media and major parties do little to inform us because it is complicated, expensive and not flashy to talk about the 535 members of Congress or the thousands of statewide officials.  The Presidential election is flashy and entertaining.  Please go vote in November.  People have died to give you that right and people in other nations die every day trying to get it for themselves.  But before you do, educate yourself on who you are voting for and what they can do.  The President is important but only one part of a complex system that governs our land.

Vote411 is a nonpartisan voter information site run by the League of Women Voters.  There you can find details about registration, polling places, and early or mail-in voting.  Closer to the election they publish briefings on each candidate including biographical information and general positions, tailored for your particular ballot.  It is a great resource to study before going to the polls!