Questions of jurisdiction are critical in the government of our republic. Who is responsible for what issues? What things are responsibilities of the federal government, and which part of the federal government? What things are issues for state or local government? What should be left for individuals to be responsible for themselves?
Yet this distinction often gets completely lost on voters and politicians. I’ve got a problem, and what’s Congress going to do to solve it? The politicians are always expected to have an answer. Unfortunately, they almost always do.
I was particularly pleased, then, to catch the Meet the Press debate on October 17th between Jim DeMint and Inez Tenenbaum, candidates for US Senate from South Carolina. Specifically, I was impressed with how DeMint handled one line of questioning from Russert.
Russert was basically trying to nail DeMint from several different angles as being some form of homophobic, specifically pulling up a recent quote in which DeMint said, “If a person is a practicing homosexual, they should not be teaching in our schools.”
REP. DeMINT: Well, I apologize for that remark, because I really regret distracting from the main issues of this debate.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, do you apologize because it’s a distraction or do you apologize for what you said?
REP. DeMINT: No, I apologize for distracting from the real issues of this debate. This is…
MR. RUSSERT: So do you–wait, but let’s clarify. Do you believe that gays should be able to teach in the public schools of South Carolina?
REP. DeMINT: I believe that’s a local school board issue
Pressed on the point at least half a dozen times with the full Russert effect, DeMint stuck to the same answer. He apologized specifically for having commented on something that was not his business as a federal candidate, insisting that the hiring of teachers was the concern of local school boards and not the concern of a congressman. It was not his place to even have an opinion on this issue.
Of course, one could question the purity of his motives. This might be considered a way of trying to back up after having stepped in it. Whatever it took for him to get the separation of powers religion though, I’m glad he’s reading out of the same constitutional hymnal here as me.
I’m just happy for the rare sight of a candidate recognizing that there are problems and issues in the land which are not the province of the US Congress. First issue when a new problem is presented to Congress: Is this the responsibility of the Congress or the federal government in the first place? If it’s not specifically listed in the US Constitution, then it’s somebody else’s issue.
Who should we hire to teach our schools? Let’s see, where does the US Constitution give Congress responsibility for schools? Correct answer: nowhere. Therefore, Jim DeMint had The Correct answer: It’s not Congress’ job. I’m staying out of it.Powered by Sidelines