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Who speaks for us?
On lucky offspring, the Queen's speech, and the only ones who can come to our rescue in America
There isn't much dispute among historians about the two greatest American Presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln have those two spots safely locked up. And most Americans would agree -- even if there are plenty of shortcomings one could identify about each of them -- most indisputably, Washington should have freed the people he held in slavery prior to his own death.
■ It is most interesting that these two Presidents, towering figures that they are in our national lore, left no descendants to the modern day. Washington had no children of his own, and Lincoln's family tree appears to have died off with his great-grandson in 1985.
■ While it's not the only reason to be glad the United States doesn't have a hereditary monarchy, it certainly serves as a fascinating pair of case studies that no genetic heirs to our two most revered Presidents would have been available to the present, even if we had wanted them. This stands in marked contrast to the United Kingdom, where Prince Charles has delivered the "Queen's Speech" in place of his mother, who continues to reign but suffers from health troubles in her advanced age.
■ Serious news outlets in the UK have noted that the presence of the Prince in place of his mother makes the act "constitutionally sound". It sounds quaint, but it really is logically odd to require the physical presence of a body with a blood relationship in order to make a government's actions "constitutional".
■ Periodically, it is worth remembering that when the President of the United States is required to report on the State of the Union, it is the act of a person answering to his sovereign authority -- the American people and the states, who are represented in person by the two houses of Congress. The people and the states delegate their powers to the Congress, which delegates the execution of those powers to the President. No blood relationships are required.
■ And it is a good thing, but one we remember too infrequently. The perpetual expansion of the imperial Presidency too often gives us the impression that the President is some sort of "boss of everybody". It's an impression often formed quite early, since children aren't necessarily equipped to understand popular sovereignty, but are pretty well programmed to recognize an authority figure.
■ But it takes correction and practice to realize that the powers that originate with the people -- not with a sovereign individual -- and that those powers are impossible to carry out well and faithfully without responsibility. If things go wrong here, it is our own fault. Even if we wanted them, there are no fortunate offspring of our greatest Presidents available to save us. It is only up to us, all by ourselves.