I often rant about what is wrong with the government and with those who walk the halls of power in this country. I do it because I love my country, and I hate to see it veer off the path of righteousness. I do it because I find more than occasionally that others are thinking the same things I am; I try to give those people a voice. I do it because I think what I say and what I believe about this country matters. Finally, I do it because the Constitution says I can.
It was not always so. A little anecdote from Wikipedia is enlightening.
“While the Alien and Sedition Laws were in force, John Adams, en route from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Quincy, Massachusetts, stopped in Newark, New Jersey, where . . . (a committee) saluted him by firing a cannon. A bystander said, ‘There goes the President and they are firing at his ass.’ Luther Baldwin was indicted for replying that he did not care ‘if they fired through his a**.’ He was convicted in the federal court for speaking ‘˜sedicious words tending to defame the President and Government of the United States’ and fined, assessed court costs and expenses, and placed in jail until the fine and fees were paid.” (Wikipedia)
It is not so everywhere in the world today. In Syria, on July 4, 2010, the government tried and convicted 79-year old human rights’ attorney Haitham Maleh for expressing his views. What could a man say to make him deserve imprisonment?
The Founders believed that the government needed to respond to the people, rather than rule them. The basic idea is that citizens give up some freedom in return for the protection they receive from the government. This is what the founders meant in the Declaration of Independence when they said that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
A government that tries to prevent the free exchange of ideas is afraid of them. Such governments exist for the benefit of the rulers, and those rulers jealously guard their hold on power. Such countries have leaders with titles like “President for Life.” We call them “dictators,” or “strong men,” but we think of them as good, old-fashioned bullies, which is exactly what they are. Fortunately, the government of the United States of America has no such fear.
Some on the radical right like to view our government in this kind of light, recasting laws the Founders might have called “wholesome and necessary for the public good” as little more than power grabs.
In 1834, William Leggett wrote, “The fundamental principle of all governments is the protection of person and property from domestic and foreign enemies; in other words, to defend the weak against the strong.” These days, besides foreign enemies, Americans face the predatory practices of other Americans who have some strange ideas about how to conduct business and don’t seem to grasp fair play at all.
When our legislators attempt to protect Americans by making laws that prevent corporations from picking the bones of the weakest and most vulnerable citizens, the radical right gets its undies in a bunch. To them the ultimate good is greed. Every idea that gets in the way the fulfillment of greed is labeled as destructive of society. They object to paying for the infrastructure that enables them to make cartloads of money, claiming that taxes are a burden. They even say things like “Obama is the antichrist.”
And while I could never agree with them, I’m grateful and proud to live in a country where they can say so.