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Hullabaloo


Sunday, July 04, 2004

 
Don't Tread On Me

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."
Samuel Adams


Ye olde civil discourse in action.

I've always loved the Fourth of July. It's not just because it's in the middle of summer and fireworks and picnics are fun, although those are good reasons. It's because I've always loved the feelings that American patriotism at its best inspires. Phrases like "all men are created equal" and words like "liberty" are concepts that run deeply in my American soul.

It makes me sick to see those words turned into cheap advertising slogans by people who believe in exactly the opposite, but it has ever been thus. Those words are emotional words, they make you feel things, and good advertising men know that's a key to making a sale. So, I understand. But, I still hate it.

As a Democrat I fall into the liberal category more than the progressive, I'm afraid, although I'm comfortable in each of those camps. I do believe that society needs government for more than defense, policing and contract disputes and I don't have a strong emotional attachment to property rights above all else. Reasonable taxation seems like common sense to me and certain necessary functions don't seem to respond well to the market, so I'm not a libertarian.

But, I am a liberal in much of the classical sense. I have a visceral mistrust of power so intense that all intrusions against civil liberties and individual rights are suspect in my mind until proven otherwise. The idea of innocent men being imprisoned with no due process, people being unable to marry who they choose or have dominion over their own bodies, censorship, forced religion and any other use of power against individuals is something that I believes requires a huge amount of deliberation, debate and thought before it should ever be implemented in the name of security, community or anything else. Indeed, in my mind, humans are such unreliable and incompetent creatures that it's best if we just don't go there at all.

It's a strange form of democracy we have because of its dual purpose of fulfilling the desire of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority. It creates a tension between the two pillars of the American system: freedom and equality. We are always measuring our progress between those two poles and it's never easy. But, to be an American is to hold both of those ideas as ideal. Indeed, America will cease to be America if we don't.

I have never agreed with this manifest destiny, American exceptionalism crapola. We come up so short, so often, within our own country that it is folly of the highest order to believe that we have a right to evangelize to the rest of the world. But, that doesn't mean that we haven't got something fine going here that deserves to be preserved, defended and respected.

There are many reasons to love our country, of course. But, most importantly, I think, it's that it is the repository of a bunch of great ideas about those words that move me so much --- freedom, equality, inalienable human rights. We are very far from achieving the perfection of those ideas, and we do have a bad habit of being most disappointingly willing to toss these concepts aside when it suits us. But, for the most part, we still manage to go one step forward for every two steps back and that's worth a lot.

If you have a chance today, read the Bill of Rights. It's our single greatest political contribution to the advancement of mankind.

Happy Fourth of July, my fellow imperfect Americans.





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