Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourth of July, 2012

"When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."
Well, T.J., here we are-two hundred and thirty-six years later. A famous historian once referred to the Declaration of Independence as the "American Scripture." It was a different age. John Adams argued that it was the "age of Revolution and Constitutions." The Founding Fathers were convinced that the truth and sanctity of their ideals would be enough. That words truly mattered. That words could change men and the mind's of men. All evidence shows, they were right. Look at what they accomplished. To paraphrase Lincoln, we brought forth a "new birth of freedom." It wasn't perfect, but it established a concept of egalitarianism that few have ever accepted before. The equality of all men, regardless of race, religion, or creed.
Now let's flash forward to the year 2012. First, I wonder how many Americans would even recognize the words. I wonder how many of our political leaders would even recognize the words. Thanks to the advent of the Tea Party, we have been re-introduced to the concept of liberty. From the point of view of our framers, liberty was the freedom from government oppression. It was not the right to refuse to pay your taxes (as many in the Tea Party advocate). On this Fourth of July I find myself wondering how Jefferson would reconcile his beliefs in the light of the massive expansion in government powers. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal; Lyndon Johnson's Great Society; George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind; Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act; all are examples of the expansion in the powers of the federal government. While many, in the Tea Party and elsewhere, complain about this government expansion-it is a fact of life. You cannot put the Genie back into the bottle; you cannot close Pandora's Box. Along the way we made the decision, for good or ill, that it WAS the responsibility of the federal government to care for it's citizens. The State governments were simply not up to the task. 
With that thought accepted, where do we go from here. The entitlement society has emerged. More and more people are in disagreement with John F. Kennedy when he uttered the famous words: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." At what point do we accept the notion that we can't have it both ways. We cannot claim that the government should provide us with assistance and then turn around and decry that very assistance. I wonder how many Tea Party members will scream for government assistance after a hurricane or tornado? 
The argument is now moot, the expansive federal government is here to stay. Remember, the federal government is the largest employer in the United States. No Republican can ever pull a Ronald Reagan and run on the promise of "cutting the size of the federal government" unless he wants to campaign on the promise of eliminating jobs and inflating the unemployment rate. The question becomes how far do we want our government to go? At what point do our citizens have to take responsibility for their own actions? In 1776, they agreed to the solemn promise: "we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." I wonder how many people would make a similar pledge in this current narcissistic society?
On this 4 July 2012, let us reflect  not only on where we've been, but also on where we're going. Let us hold our current presidential candidates to a standard of "vision." Let us hold them to a defense of these "self-evident" truths. Maybe then we can re-attain that sense of "civic virtue." That antique belief that we should do what is in the best interests of the nation, regardless of party or regional beliefs. Until we do, I do not believe we will ever fulfill our motto of "E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One

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