August 10, 2011


In 2009, Helen Thomas, a 40 year veteran of the White House Press Corp and Craig Crawford, a columnist for Congressional Quarterly’s CQ Politics, collaborated on a book titled “Listen Up, Mr. President.” I know thisbecause I picked up a copy at the Dollar Store.   

The writing clips along at a good pace with a bit of satire, a bit of irony and a number of facts unknown to me. Maybe I was asleep in high school social studies when these aspects of our government were discussed but until I read the book, I didn’t know them. For example, I didn’t know that while a President may sign a bill that displeases him, he can engage in a practice called, “the signing statement.” That means he can define the limits and parameters of what the bill means and treat it accordingly—a practice used by every President but George Washington. Barack Obama, for example, issued his first signing statement within the first 2 months of taking office. 

(AP/J.S. Applewhite)

Nothing in the Constitution permits a President to issue signing statements. It’s for the Legislature to define what its Bills mean. Signing statements circumvent the balance of power between the Executive and Legislative branches. Of course when “our guy” is doing the interpretation to our liking, we may turn a blind eye.  But taking that position weakens the nation. In a democracy, it’s inevitable that each of us is going to win some arguments and lose others. When we permit leaders to subvert the system because we agree with the outcome, we all lose.