In celebration of Constitution Day on September 19, students and community members trickled into the Iadarola Center lecture hall to hear from Dr. Jim Hedtke, the man wearing a tie covered with images of U.S. presidents.
“This is the alpha and omega event for me,” Hedtke said. Hedtke has been a professor of history and political science at Cabrini University since 1973.
A call to educate
In the 1990s, colleges across Pennsylvania were required by the state to hold an event for Constitution Day. Constitution Day serves the purpose of honoring the signing of the United States Constitution. Hedtke has helmed the gathering for so long he does not recall when then–Cabrini president Antoinette Iadarola asked him to take over the lecture.
This day brought Hedtke sadness, as this was his last Constitution Day lecture. Professor Hedtke recalled that former President Iadarola attended every one of these lectures. However, Cabrini University President Helen Drinan did not attend.
In preparing for his lecture, Hedtke wanted to take attendees on a journey through various political philosophies. Hedtke’s wife said he would “bore the audience,” and gave him a simple piece of advice: “Just stick to the nuts and bolts.”
The nuts and bolts
In sticking to the “nuts and bolts,” Hedtke began his lecture with two of the presidential powers: legislative power, and veto power. “What the president has to do to kill a bill is veto it,” Hedtke said. The presidential veto is difficult for congress to overturn.
The likelihood of a presidential veto being overridden is slim to none. According to Hedtke, only six presidential vetoes have been overturned by congress since 1789.
Hedtke also discussed the history of the State of the Union address. The address is a yearly event in American politics. Interestingly, there was no State of the Union address from a sitting U.S. president between the administrations of Thomas Jefferson and William Taft from 1801-1930.
The mold was broken by Woodrow Wilson, setting a standard for future presidents. “Wilson viewed the state of the union as a time to put forth his agenda, and something for the American people to rally around,” Hedtke said.
Another topic of Hedtke’s talk was executive agreements. Executive agreements are made by the president alone, without the approval of Congress. These agreements are made directly between leaders of countries, often revolving around treaties, or trade agreements. However, they’re not usually strong, as it is common for a new president from a different political party to disregard these policies when entering office.
In terms of executive power, Hedtke cites gray areas in the United States Constitution. “It’s anything (executive power) that I want it to be, and I can act however I want regardless of the law,” Hedtke said. Executive orders are often tied to the Constitution, urging from Congress, or treaties.
Instances such as the internment of Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt trading military destroyers for bases, or President Abraham Lincoln suspending habeas corpus and blockading the south in an act of war, are all instances of a presidential disregard for the Constitution.
“I am a really big history buff, and one thing that I did not know that I learned about today is how Lincoln did not go along with the Constitution,” Katrina John, junior business major, said.
Surprising tidbits like this were sprinkled throughout Hedtke’s lecture, and John was not the only person impressed by Hetdtke’s political knowledge.
“I have been to many lectures in my day, and this is one of the best political science or American history lectures I have ever listened to, and that includes the people I listen to on MSNBC,” Gillian Norris-Szanto, president of the Radnor League of Women’s Voters, said.
In closing, Hedtke offered advice for the audience. “Tomorrow is my 74th birthday, and I have nothing against old people, but we are literally carrying people out of Congress. It’s time for the younger generation to take charge of our nation.” Hedtke said.