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Re-establish Respect for the Constitutional Separation of Powers

• December 22, 2008 • 6:50 PM

Miller-McCune’s experts offer solutions to problems that were under-discussed during the presidential campaign.

Despite repeated assertions by both Barack Obama and John McCain that their policies would differ significantly from those of the previous administration, virtually no attention was paid during the campaign to the worst feature of the Bush presidency: the determined undermining of America’s constitutional framework. In fact, the issue was missing from congressional races as well, even though many of the members of Congress who were seeking re-election had acquiesced in the unconstitutional amassing of executive power.

If this is to truly be a new beginning — a chance to address the mistakes of the past eight years — it must begin with a commitment, both by Congress and the White House, to restore respect for the constitutional separation of powers and the specific constitutional limitations on government authority.

Herewith, some suggestions: Declare that the president and executive branch agencies will obey all laws properly enacted by Congress and established by the president’s signature. Recognize that the Constitution places final authority over regulation of the armed forces, treatment of military prisoners and the decision to go to war not in the White House but in Congress. Agree that members of the White House staff are, like all American citizens, subject to subpoena and questioning by Congress, except as to advice given to the president. Agree that while the president is in fact the sole head of the executive branch, federal agencies may be directed to perform, or abstain from performing, certain tasks by properly enacted legislation.

At the end of the process, if these initiatives are undertaken and pursued, we will be back where we began more than two centuries ago: with a system of government that keeps power in the hands of the people, through their elected representatives. Now that will really be “change we can believe in.”

More Unsolicited Advice …


Restore Public Faith in Science
Sunshine Menezes, Ph.D., University of Rhode Island: Before the tumbling economy sucked the air out of other issues in the 2008 presidential campaign, there was laudable effort to bring attention to a largely overlooked but critical policy issue: the decline of American science funding and education. Read more


Eliminate the Electoral College
Len Sellers, CEO, Hammer2Anvil: I was at a business dinner in Asia shortly after the 2000 election. Jokes were being made about still not knowing who will be the next U.S. president: “Isn’t it typical of Americans to bring in the lawyers?” And so on. Read more


Close the Turkey Farm
Thomas A. Birkland, Ph.D., North Carolina State University: The president should remove FEMA from Homeland Security. Minimally, he could issue an executive order that indicates that the FEMA director reports directly to the president during disasters. Read more


Grant All Americans Their Day in Court
James L. Gibson, Ph.D. Washington University in St. Louis: One issue I believe your administration ought to address is that of access to justice by ordinary citizens. As you are no doubt aware by virtue of your legal training, the American legal system has been radically reshaped during the Republican years under so-called tort reform. Read more


Return Balance to the Federal Judiciary
Cornell W. Clayton, Ph.D., Washington State University: You will have the opportunity to nominate many federal judges and no doubt one or more individuals to the U.S. Supreme Court in the next four years. Please restore balance to our federal judiciary. By balance, I do not refer to partisanship or ideology but to life experience and public stature. Read more


P. People O.
Bill Savage, Ph.D., Northwestern University: Piss people off. Piss off the right-wing Cuban Americans in Florida by normalizing relations with Cuba. (If we can work with the commies in Vietnam or China, then we can work with the Cubans.) Piss off the agribusiness industry by ending subsidies for farms not owned and worked by individual families. Read more


Pay More Attention to Our Own Backyard
Douglas Massey, Ph.D., Princeton University: A clear lesson of the last eight years is that the world is now too large and complex to be dominated by a single power. Nations that try to exercise unilateral economic and military power will only undermine their moral and material position in the world and contribute to their own decline. Read more


Find a New Immigration Perspective
James La Valle, Ph.D., Murray State University: Conspicuously absent from both 2008 presidential campaigns was a fair, honest and decisive proposal to solve the immigration problem in the U.S., especially with respect to our southern border. Read more


Make Real Racial Progress
Phillip Atiba Goff, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles: There are few places where the United States is further away from achieving “post-raciality” than in our prisons and courtrooms. … It is distressing to think that this election’s celebration of moral progress could coincide with the largest incarceration of a people in the history of the world, with recent reports estimating that as many as 1 in 9 black males between the ages of 18 and 34 are held in penitentiaries. Read more

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Mickey Edwards
Mickey Edwards teaches at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and is a vice president of the Aspen Institute, where he directs a program in political leadership. In Congress for 16 years, he was a senior member of the House Republican leadership, serving as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and ranking Republican on the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee. He was national chairman of the American Conservative Union and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation. His new book is Reclaiming Conservatism (Oxford University Press).

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