You don’t know what a “Standing Committee” is?

Day in and day out I walk around school hearing random bits of news. In class, I often eavesdrop on conversations going on about me- ADD will do that to you. Most conversations are hardly worth listening to; most concern parties or boyfriends. However, I occasionally catch a tidbit about a current event in politics. There ARE times when it seems everyone is talking about politics, though. (Recently Healthcare Reform sparked a multitude of debates throughout the day).

Usually I smile at these arguments- most are unfounded and based entirely upon speculation. I rarely enter into a debate, though I occasionally add a fact or two to contradict a false statement. But that is expected- not to sound pompous, but people are not as informed as I am, particularly on health care reform- since it concerned my future career. However, sometimes I don’t watch my FOX at night and am uninformed as to how the bill process proceeded. Occasionally I’ll walk into class and announce “Did they Republicans continue the filibuster? Or have they set the vote?” or “How did the conference committee go?” and more often than not, I will receive blank stares. “You know, did the Republicans keep talking…have they made a date to vote on the bill?”

My classmates’ faces tell me, oooooooooh that’s what he meant. Maybe this is the problem with government’s distance from the people. It’s not that the government can’t understand the people- MAYBE it’s the people who can’t understand the government. I mean, who really understands what a filibuster is? Quick quiz:

  1. What is censure?
  2. How many people are in the President’s cabinet?
  3. What do the president’s cabinet members do?
  4. What is the bill making process? 
  5. How many votes to end a filibuster?
  6. Who are the heads of both the Senate and the House?
  7. Which branch of government makes the most legislation?
  8. Which is considered the most powerful branch of government?
  9. Who makes the federal budget?
  10. What does the Supreme Court use to rule on cases?

(Answers on the bottom.)

If you got through that quiz easily, you probably know how the government works. Mostly. This is in no way to be totally inclusive, but it does give a nice oversight as to the logistics of government. I bet that, in any city in the US, if one were to give this quiz to 100 random strangers, maybe 10 would answer all 10 questions correctly. This is an opinion, that is true, but the fact is that a lot of us simply do not know how our government works. Being right out of a Texas high school, I would recommend that an entire year of Government be taught, not just a semester. But really, how many 25+ year-olds remember the information taught in their high school Government class. Herein lies the problem. My conservative leaning tells me that people should take it upon themselves to learn about our government- let’s face it, they should. However, I think as people learn about government, they learn that government really isn’t the solution to every problem. They find out that governments are slow, vague, and can rarely deal with a problem as well as someone in the private sector can. So in reality, if we create mandatory schooling in (hopefully) middle school through high school in which fundamentals of the American government are taught, then we can create an aware, more involved population. Voter’s lethargy will be cured if people really knew how important their US Senator or Congressmen are. Coming from a county in which 76,000 out of 216,000 possible voters actually voted in the 2008 presidential election, it looks to me as if the voices of 140,000 people are not being heard.

Now here comes the ever-present, “well how do we get it started”. Well, if you could pass that quiz, you should have an idea of how an idea like this starts. My philosophy is if you’ve really got a burr in your butt and you decide to research it, you should retain it better than if you read it in some random kid’s blog. So I challenge you, how does one create more stringent government classes in middle schools and high schools across the nation?

And here come the end to my little conversation. A nice synopsis: Government needs to be learned by the population because they have to know how their quality of life is affected by filibusters, vetoes, and precedence. Here are the answers to the quiz:

  1. Censure is a formal process done by congress to reprimand the congressman and ban him or her from speaking on the floor due to misbehavior.
  2. There are 16 official members of the President’s Cabinet with six officials who have “Cabinet-rank”.
  3. It is in the opinion of the writer that the Cabinet really does nothing. They do administrative work within their department, but lawmaking is left to the president while policy making is left to the lower bureaucrats. However, they “take care of finite things so the president doesn’t have to” which probably means they stay informed on their department so that they may offer up information to the president when he requires it.
  4. You’re going to have to look this one up.
  5. In the Senate, a filibuster may only be ended when 60 out of 100 senators vote for cloture on the debate.
  6. The head of the House is called the Speaker of the House and is elected by the majority party. The constitutional head of the Senate is the Vice-President; however the real head of the senate is the Majority leader, elected by the majority party. There is a president pro-tempore in the senate, however that is usually held by the oldest senator and is merely a position of respect that garners no real senatorial power.
  7. The executive branch.
  8. The judicial branch, due to judicial review.
  9. The executive branch, with congress’s approval.
  10. The Supreme Court uses the Constitution as well as previous US court rulings, called precedence, to rule in cases. However, Justice Stevens enjoys citing foreign law, such as the French constitution and German law, in cases.

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