Mickey Edwards, former Harvard professor, founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation and vice president of the Aspen Institute, spoke on American government and the Constitution at the University Forum on Tuesday, Sept. 23.
Edwards introduced the well-known metaphor of the United States as the shining city on a hill. He said America is the top cultural, military and economic power on the planet. Whether it is shining or not, however, is arguable.
Edwards shared the story of Benjamin Franklin walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention came to a close in 1787. A woman approached him and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”
Franklin responded without hesitation, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Edwards’ experience as a former congressman for the state of Oklahoma allowed him insight into the difficulties plaguing the United States. He said American exceptionalism does not exist, but the United States’ form of government is exceptional.
Edwards said every other country in the world has a head of state except U.S. Edwards then highlighted the three branches of government and explained that America is a citizen government, meaning that the people have a voice in government decisions.
“The question is not whether our government will survive these threats. The question is whether it will survive us,” Edwards said.
While many grow impatient with the slow, bureaucratic process of passing laws, Edwards believes that the system gives the American people the opportunity to think critically about issues. It forces the public to think rationally instead of out of passion.
Edwards said powers traditionally held by Congress are slowly being transferred to the presidency. “This is not a one-party or one-person problem,” Edwards said.
Issues including secrecy, government surveillance and habeas corpus are hot topics in contemporary American politics. Edwards warned that the most concerning part is that Congress is putting up with it. “We’ve seen a further erosion of the Congress,” Edwards said.
Edwards said the rivalry between Republicans and Democrats causes many to put party loyalty over the opinions of their constituents. He is concerned about the ever-growing power of the chief executive. He believes the United States is moving closer to a European parliamentary system.
As exceptional as the American republic is, it requires a constant struggle to keep it.