Emily M. DeArdo



Seven Quick Takes No. 116: My Country Tis of Thee

7 Quick TakesEmily DeArdoComment

linking up with Kelly and the gang


Ok, first: What You Might Have Missed This Week

The Fight for Joy

Summer Scribbles No. 4: The Summer After High School


Since it's the Weekend of the Fourth, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about Our Peculiar Form of Government! So gather 'round for a Civics lesson, cats and kittens!



OK, the first thing y'all need to know: Things in the U.S. are done in threes. There are three branches of government. There are three levels of government. 

The three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, Judicial.

The three levels of government: local, state, federal. This is called Federalism. (More on that in a bit) 

Every level of government has the three branches of government. 

So, your town has a mayor (executive), a city council (legislative), and a mayor's court (judicial). Or something like a mayor's court.

A state has a state legislature, a governor, and a state supreme court. 

The nation--the United States-- has Congress (legislative), a president (executive), and the Supreme Court of the United States (Judicial). 


Each branch of government has its specific functions. 

The legislative branch makes the laws. (This is your local council, state legislature, or the U.S. Congress.)

(For how this works at the federal level....)

The executive enforces the law. This is the mayor, the governor, the President. (You hear the president say he will uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America when he's sworn in on Inauguration Day. That's part of being an executive.) 

The judicial branch interprets the law. (It's not supposed to make law, but you know....) 

Each branch has powers over the other branches of government, so that one branch cannot become too powerful. This is called checks and balances. For example, a governor can veto a bill--but the state legislature can override the veto. A supreme court can declare a law unconstitutional, and so forth. 


Got that? 

Back to Federalism. 

The idea behind Federalism (or at least, American Federalism)  is that what can be decided by the states, should be. The Constitution gives us this in the 10th amendment. 

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.[5]

Keep in mind that, before the Revolutionary War, the colonies were governed by the British King. As in, the King thousands of miles away. Who knew nothing about them or what they were doing or what they wanted. Hence, the idea that government that is closest to the people should make most of the day to day decisions for the people in that area. From the beginning, everyone agreed that there should be levels of government--but who does what? What should the Federal government do? What should the state governments do? Etc. 

You can still see that we have a divide in our country about what the Federal government should do and what it should not do.  But the general idea was that government closer to home is better at knowing what the people need in a particular area, and that the federal government is good for things that affect the nation as a whole. (i.e., the military, building roads, the mail service, etc.) 


Having said all that

People do not seem to understand these ideas. 

Here are two examples. 

1) When I worked in my congressman's office (Congress being the legislative branch on the Federal--national--level), people would call and complain about the local sewer service. Or trash pickup in the city where the district office was located.  

This is not something you call the federal government about. This is something you call the local city/township/village about. 

2) When I worked in the state senate, people used to call and ask for federal senators. As in, senators from other states. Note that I worked in the state senate. As in, all of our senators represented different parts of Ohio. Not different states in the nation. 

You may remember that the Democratic Nominee for President is 2004 was Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. That fall, I worked for State Senator Jon Carey, who represented part of the state of Ohio. 

Can you guess what happened in our office nearly every day? 

That's right. People called looking for Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts

Yes, they were both senators. And yes, their names were pronounced the same way. 

But guys. One is a federal senator. As in, he works in Washington, D.C. and represents the people of an entire state--which was not Ohio.  

One is a state senator. He represents significantly fewer people.  And he's not running for president. 


If you learn nothing else in any civics class, ever, please learn the difference between the branches and levels of government. Don't say that a state representative is getting the same great paycheck/benefits as his federal counterpart. Don't call the mayor to complain about the president (and definitely not vice-versa). Don't expect the Supreme Court of the United States to care about broken city ordinances in Smalltown, U.S.A. (I mean, sometimes they do. But that's another kettle of fish.) 

And now I shall leave you with the Schuyler Sisters.