Mickey Edwards was a member of Congress for 16 years. Before Congress, he was a newspaper reporter, among other things. After Congress, he taught for 11 years at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government before moving on first to Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and then back to Washington, D.C., as vice president of the Aspen Institute, where he directs a bipartisan fellowship for elected public officials. Before joining a Smithsonian/Zócalo “What It Means to Be American” panel discussion entitled, “Do We Still Know How to Be Good Citizens?” he talked in the green room about Cape Cod, justice, and why he hates both political parties.
What’s your favorite line in the U.S. Constitution?
The one that is most in jeopardy right now is to “establish justice.” That is something that is under a lot of question right now. It’s not just about people being shot, it has to do with overzealous prosecutors.
What, if anything, do you miss about being a newspaper reporter?
I miss everything about being a newspaper reporter. I wasn’t a particularly good reporter because I wasn’t as inquisitive as I needed to be. So I miss the writing. Now I write as much as I can. I write op-eds. I write books.
What question do you get asked most in Washington?
I get asked most often by people who are political: Why is it that [you] hate both political parties?
Who was your childhood hero?
My dad. It was not even close. My dad grew up in an orphan home, he never had money. He did a great job—he was a great father.
Where do you go to be alone?
I’m lucky enough to have an office that has a door. Sometimes at home, while my wife is grading papers, I’ll just go in another room and read. I love solitude and quiet. It’s hard to find. When I’m staying in a hotel, I never turn the television set on.
What is the last habit you tried to kick?
I’ve pretty successfully kicked the habits I was trying to kick—sweets, sugar, sodium. I have a real sweet tooth. It took a lot effort … but the result is I lost 30 pounds.
What salad dressing best embodies you?
What’s your favorite national park?
I have several. We have an area in Cape Cod where they have sand dunes where you have the stretch running from Truro, Mass. to Provincetown. I love this beautiful area. Which is strange for somebody from Oklahoma.
What does it mean to be American?
It means understanding the importance of living in this society where the power over the government has been left in the hands of the people themselves—if they exercise it. We do it through the Congress. Unless the people themselves say we go to war, we don’t go to war. Unless the people say we raise our taxes, we don’t raise our taxes.