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Other View: Freshman members of Congress should take a class about the Constitution

Ignorance of how this country works is unforgiveable among lawmakers.

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U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the vice chair of the congressional committee investigating Jan. 6, speaks at the Reagan Library on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, in Simi Valley, California, as part of its series on the future of the GOP.
Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / TNS
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The beauty of our democratic system of government is that anyone can get elected. But that feature is also a bug. We suspect we aren’t alone among Americans who watch some of the antics on Capitol Hill and think, “How on Earth did that person get elected?” Sometimes it seems that politicians know little more than how to win votes.

To take one recent example: In his first interview after being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2020, Republican Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn University football coach, misidentified the three branches of our government, claimed that World War II was fought against European socialists, and promised to use his Senate resources to campaign for fellow Republicans, which is illegal.

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Tuberville isn’t the only one. Examples abound from both parties.

Last fall, Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., suggested that the government “absolutely cannot go bankrupt because we have the power to create as much money as we need to spend.”

Nor are politicians outliers. According to the latest installment of the annual Constitution Day Civics Survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, 44% of Americans would join Tuberville in misidentifying the branches of government.

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Every elected representative doesn’t have to be John Locke, but it would be nice if Americans could have a bit more confidence in Beltway brainpower. U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., has an idea that could help, and we think she should pursue it.

In an interview with David Kramer of the George W. Bush Institute last month, Cheney said Congress should institute a “Constitution Boot Camp” for freshman members of Congress. Cheney said freshman onboarding includes a lot of nuts-and-bolts training like “Appropriations Boot Camp” to help lawmakers navigate Washington. But it doesn’t include any political philosophy or history.

An official with the minority Committee on House Administration, which handles freshman orientation, told us various seminars are offered to new lawmakers, but only three are required: workplace rights, ethics and cybersecurity.

We remember a day when it was fashionable among elected leaders to carry pocket-size copies of the Constitution, like talismans of patriotism. We don’t think Cheney’s idea should be about such preening, but a serious crash course in the unique beauty of the American system of government and the genius of its framers.

Cheney has a few important things on her to-do list right now, including a congressional investigation into a former president accused of betraying that very Constitution. When she gets done protecting our founding documents on the Jan. 6 House panel, we encourage her to implement the Congressional Constitution Boot Camp.

©2022 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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