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Reading Comprehension 104: The Constitution

I didn’t mean for it to get out of hand like this. It started as a joke, with Sarah Palin citing a New York Times article as proof of an Obama-Ayers connection when the article reached the opposite conclusion. Then, when she claimed to be a regular reader of The Economist, I thought it would be funny to follow up by noting how little The Economist’s economists thought of McCain’s policies. Then, with her willful ignorance on the Troopergate Report, I thought it couldn’t get any worse, but……Now this, it……I just don’t know…… [thinkprogress.org]

Q: Brandon Garcia wants to know, “What does the Vice President do?”

PALIN: That’s something that Piper would ask me! … [T]hey’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.

…………………(choke)……Excuse me, please, for a moment, I have to……

(Runs from room. Sound of a door slamming. Quiet sobbing. Strains of instrumental version of “Send in the Clowns” can be heard.)

OK. Sorry about that. I’m better now. Where was I?

Oh…yes. That.

What in the blue hell is Palin talking about??? I know she was addressing a question from a third grader, but that’s no reason to just start making stuff up. Never mind that Palin herself famously asked that very same question; apparently no one’s gotten around to telling her the correct answer. When she made the assertion in her debate with Joe Biden that “the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate,” you would think that someone in the McCain campaign would have set her straight and told her to keep that kind of patently incorrect talk to herself, at least until after the election. Palin’s response would get an ‘F’ on any high school civics paper.

So let’s set the record straight. Article 1, Section 3 of the United States Constitution states:

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.

Other than to certify the official vote count of the U.S. Electoral College and to assume the duties of the president should he be unable to fulfill them, that’s it. The single legislative duty the Vice President has is to cast a vote in the Senate only in the event of a tie. The Vice President is not “in charge” of the Senate. They cannot “get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes,” whether they want to or not. Suggesting that a member of the Executive Branch – or better yet, Dick Cheney’s famous “fourth branch” – is “in charge” of the Legislative Branch contradicts the very concept of separate but equal branches of government. Checks and balances. I would assume Palin’s heard of them, but I’m done assuming anything about her anymore. Until she starts exhibiting the most basic familiarities with way the United States government operates under the Constitution, I’m going to treat her as the sort of person for whom toothpick instructions were created.

The one major job description of the role of the Vice President, and Palin doesn’t understand it. Or if she does, she’s lying, but either way, she’s frighteningly wrong.

– Michael Turner