Thomas Jefferson once said, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” If the results of a new Rasmussen poll are correct, Jefferson would conclude that tyranny has returned to America.
This provocative conclusion is reflected in the results of a question as to whether the American government is a threat to individual rights. Forty-eight percent of American adults agree that the government is a threat to individual rights. Thirty-seven percent of American adults hold the opposite view. Fifteen percent have no opinion.
There is, not surprisingly, a partisan split on the question. “Most Republicans (74%) and unaffiliateds (51%) consider the government to be a threat to individual rights. Most Democrats (64%) regard the government as a protector of rights.”
Part of the reason for the partisan divide may stem from how different people define rights. Conservatives and libertarians tend to regard rights as an individual matter, that people should be free to do and say as they choose to the fullest extent possible. Furthermore, people on the Right side of the spectrum believe that individual rights are derived from God or from nature (depending on the degree of religious belief), and cannot be taken away by any human government.
Liberals, on the other hand, tend to believe in group rights on the basis of race, gender, and other defined categories. Furthermore, they believe that rights are derived from the consent of the government, and can be restricted out of “necessity” or some other reason.
The Obama administration has moved to expand the power of government and, hence, restrict the rights of Americans. Health care reform has moved decisions on health care away from patients and health care providers to government bureaucrats. Cap-and-trade proposals would restrict Americans’ ability to purchase energy as they see fit. Higher taxes further restrict the economic freedom of Americans.
The Obama administration is seen to favor restrictions in some of the most sacred rights of Americans. The “Fairness Doctrine” would restrict free speech on the air ways. Similar measures are being mulled for the Internet.
Is it any surprise that, now, a plurality of Americans fear their own government?
Jefferson, were he to observe the country he helped to found almost 235 years ago, would take comfort in the fact that many Americans are not sitting still for the encroachment on their liberties. He might take joy and even amusement at the Tea Party protest movement, which features people actually dressing up like Founding Fathers in a kind of street theater to show their disdain for the current regime and their determination that its will to power be curbed. In a sense, if people fear their government, then government will have cause to fear the people, if not now, then very soon.
Thomas Jefferson on Tyranny and Liberty, Brainy Quotes
48% See Government Today As A Threat to Individual Rights, Rasmussen Reports, June 24th, 2010