After a much-needed Waffle House run last Sunday, my fiancé and I hopped into the car and headed home. Like most times we're in the car, he soon turned the radio dial to our favorite news station, and turned up the volume. My heart sank a bit when I realized the broadcast was yet another covering one of the presidential nominees' campaign stops, but I was slightly intrigued, and we sat in silence listening as Sen. Barack Obama addressed a crowd in Indianapolis.
On his last stop before flying out to Hawaii to see his sick grandmother, Obama recalled his mother's battle with cancer as he spoke about the corrupt health-care industry. After an insurance company claimed his mother's ovarian cancer was a preexisting condition and refused to cover her expenses, "she spent the final months of her life lying in a hospital bed, fighting with her insurance company," Obama told the crowd.
"If I am president, I will make sure those insurance companies can never do that again."
My ears perked at this statement, because while I believe Barack Obama to be the best candidate for the presidency, I was surprised to hear him make such an absolute assertion to the American people. It reminded me of Bush's historic "No New Taxes" spiel. I turned the volume down and looked at my fiancé saying: "How can he say that? One man cannot make policy changes; that's why we have Congress!"
I won't sugarcoat it: Obama was too hasty in saying he could essentially guarantee that insurance companies would never again cheat their customers out of treatment that everyone deserves, no matter their level of income or health status. While fair health care is a change we can believe in, making promises that require the cooperation of two legislative bodies in addition to that of the president highlights a problem in the way the presidency has recently been redefined.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin recently made the same mistake by assuming the office she's running for actually has more power than it does during an interview with KUSA in Colorado earlier this month. When prompted with third-grader Brandon Garcia's question of what the vice president does, Palin gave this answer:
"Not only are they there to support the president's agenda, they're like the team member, the teammate to that president," Palin began. "But also they're in charge of the U.S. Senate, so if they want to, they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom."
While Obama's statement was overzealous, Palin seemed to answer out of ignorance. After video of her interview began circulating the Internet, I heard people come to her defense saying, "She just wanted to speak in plain terms so the third-grade student asking her the question would understand." To this weak argument, I counter with what she should have saidin plain terms, no less: "The vice president breaks the tie when the senators can't agree on a law and are divided 50/50." While this is a shallow definition, a third-grader could understand it, and it fairly captures the essence of what the U.S. Constitution outlines as vice-presidential duties.
In recent years, the lines between branches of government have become so blurredas some leaders have tried to usurp more and more powerthat it's almost become commonplace to hear statements like these. The current administration has delivered the message that it's OK to assume power when you think it's in the best interest of the country. But the system of checks and balances, which should ensure the various branches work as one well-oiled machine, has abjectly failed the American people.
Under the Bush administration, the vice-president's role has grown exponentially, with Dick Cheney taking a front seat on many important policiesincluding interrogation tactics, domestic espionage and taxes. The next administration must not carry on this tradition of abusing power. Whoever is inaugurated as president of the United States in January needs to take a close look at the Constitution and get back to the basics of working together for the greater good.
But it's not just Washington that needs to check itself. Right here in Mississippi, we are having the same problem. This past session of the Legislature was a nauseating back-and-forth between the Senate, which answers to Gov. Haley Barbour's beck and call, and the House of Representatives. Despite 80 percent of Mississippians showing support of an increased tobacco tax over a hospital tax hike, Barbour refused to set aside his bias and let the Legislature do what it's supposed to do: pass legislation that, in turn, helps him serve the people of Mississippi better.
Barbour flat-out played partisan politics putting many people's health care in question. The governor is not supposed to hold such sway over a legislative body, but unfortunately, allegiance to a Party and its leaders has trumped the interests of the people who elected those officials. And when the Legislature doesn't do his bidding, Barbour calls a pricey special session to try again.
In addition to the Legislature, Barbour and his financial backers and friends in Washington, such as the U.S. Chamber and its PACs, keep a tight leash on several members of the Mississippi Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Jim Smith, to ensure that they toe their line on tort reform. It is an uphill battle for any judicial candidate to win a race without following Barbour's proscriptions.
The executive branch plays an important role in the structure of our government, but that role does not include overstepping its authority into the legislative and judicial branches. We're facing a global economic crisis, fighting in two wars, which some say has a combined American death toll higher than the American Revolution, and corruption has infected every level of government. Surely, we need a change.
As we vote on Nov. 4, we will be electing the new executive of our nation. Hopefully, he will lead with the help of others, collaborating and working together to help this country see a brand new day of change. Elect the man who you believe will think of his country before his party, and think of the men and women who elected him before himself. Coming together is the only way our country can begin to get out of this rut.