Independence Day Thoughts
I was impressed with the 2009 Independence Day celebrations in Washington D.C. and Boston. It's very inspiring and gave me pause to think about our country, its basis, its founders, and the freedom that we are blessed with. Wouldn't it be fascinating to hear what Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and Washington might say about America today? Anyway, here are my thoughts . . . first, the fundamentals. I can't say it better than those in 18th century Philadelphia, so a little plagiarism (in blue) must follow . . .
The Declaration of Independence - No human concept for governing is a precursor to this: " . . . 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 . . . " This Declaration proclaims our "natural entitlement" to individual freedom. It justifies change . . . even revolution with: " . . . That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to 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 . . ." This is one of the most important documents every written.
The Constitution of the United States of America - From the Declaration, the Constitution emanates with: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” It then instructs us how government can facilitate and sustain freedom for the people and provides the structure to achieve it. This is the law of the land.
The Bill of Rights - Many of our rights, are detailed in ten amendments that form "The Bill of Rights". This leaves no doubt what is meant by "unalienable rights" mentioned in the Declaration as: Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of The Press, Right of Peaceful Assembly, Right to Appeal to the Government, Right to Bear & keep Arms, Right to Speedy Public Jury Trial, Right to Confront Witnesses at Trial, Right to Representation by Counsel, No Soldier Quarters w/o Permission, No Searches & Seizures w/o Probably Cause, No Answering for a Serious Crime w/o Indictment, No Double Jeopardy, No Self Incrimination, No Depravity of Life & Liberty w/o Due Process of Law, No Depravity of Property w/o Compensation, No Excessive Bail & Fines, and No Cruel & Unusual Punishment.
Equal Opportunity, but No Guarantees - A democratic republic was invented for the people who are all "created equal". Accordingly, the government provides equal opportunity for all of its citizens to seek their fortune and flourish. The problem is that even though all are created equal, all do not turn out that way throughout life. Some are proficient, some are not for any number of reasons. Some can't, some won't (or refuse), some don't take responsibility for their particular status or situation in life. Remember, one's unalienable rights amount to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Here, the key word is "pursuit"! We are not guaranteed happiness by nature, but have the right to pursue it without government getting in the way. Whether it's attainable is up to the individual and the circumstances.
The Question - Much of individual happiness is connected to taking personal responsibility. So what does government and the society do with those that can not, will not, or do not fend for themselves, or feed themselves, or find a decent living, or care for their family, or educate themselves, or allow rehabilitation, or arrange for medical care, and so on?
Government's Role - This is where a society must step up and provide the necessary programs for those citizens who are willing, but for some reason cannot take advantage of the American environment to independently "seek their fortune and flourish". This means that the government must somehow assist these people so that their "unalienable rights" . . . their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness is not denied. So if a citizen takes responsibility for his or her life, this "natural entitlement" must be assured by the government. But those that refuse to take responsibility for their lives and pursuit of happiness must be dealt with in a way that minimizes the financial burden on the rest of the citizens.
Capitalism Yes, Socialism No - In addition to logical common needs, like communication, national security, international relations, and commerce, etc., the needs of responsible citizens must be supported by all of society (the tax payers) as well. This assistance is simply mandatory and it validates the fundamental premise stated in the Declaration . So, government, of the people, by the people and for the people, must enable free enterprise as well as provide for all those in the population qualified to receive a variety of governmental assistance. And there you have it . . . a mix of Capitalism but with certain very limited social programs. Note that off-shore style socialism, and "sharing the wealth" as Obama put it, is a proven failure, a destroyer of individual incentive, a destroyer of capitalism, and is out of the question!
Public Servant Integrity - We must also consider some things that the founding fathers did not specifically address in the above statements. Elected politicians, appointed judges, and career government employees who are supposed to be managing the republic in accordance with the Constitution must be accountable for their honesty, veracity, integrity, ethical behavior, competence, and adequate representation of their constituents. The Constitution allows the legislature to impeach and try a public official, but this happens very infrequently. Elections by the voting public can choose to replace or retain an incumbent politician to properly represent their interests in Congress. This happens every two years for the House of Representatives, and every 6 years for the Senate. The time in between these events leaves a lot of "running room" for the undesirable public official. So we, the people, should have new mechanisms established to exercise more control over our representatives, our public servants. For example, the current fiscal irresponsibility by the Obama Administration and the Congress must be curtailed, but we are powerless to do much about it while the House and Senate just keep rolling along. Note that there is significant unrest and resistance in the country from grass roots groups who are having independent meetings ("tax day tea parties") and rallies across the nation. But they have little mid-term influence over the antics in Washington D.C.. All they can do is to inform the voters in preparation for the next election.
Conclusion - We are blessed with American ideals and form of government. Each of us has inherent rights as human beings, but responsibilities too. They are not bestowed by our government, but by nature. Government is responsible to ensure these rights for citizens, to provide for the common good, and manage the republic according to the Constitution. As great as the American democracy is, a new republic structure is needed to better represent the will of the people and provide more public control over our representatives in government. Government assistance programs must be designed only for responsible citizens needing help. Those citizens unwilling to take personal responsibity for their lives need special consideration by the government. Just how this would be determined and administered needs careful thought.
July 4, 2009