San Diego – We are pretty much launched into the Campaign “Silly Season” leading up to the next Presidential election in 2012. There will also be senatorial and congressional seats being contested. Now we will be inundated by blather from politicians far more interested in keeping their cushy and powerful jobs than in doing what is best for the country. The old jokes about lying and disingenuous politicians will once again be shown clearly to have a solid basis in fact and we will be called upon to make choices based on rhetoric customized for the moment and distractions tossed in the way to keep us from actually trying to separate bloviation from behavior and determining not what they SAY but what they are likely to DO based on what they likely BELIEVE. That is, of course, IF, in fact, they believe in anything other than the importance of their keeping their job.
Some of those Red Herring distractions will actually refer to real issues but issues which are not life or culture threatening no matter how passionately some follow them. I believe, however, that our country is facing a truly existential crisis and allowing these distractions is like Nero fiddling while Rome burned.
Some issues, of course, will be quite important but are usually couched in language so complex and purposefully obfuscatory as to make a thoughtful analysis nearly impossible in a country peopled by folks who predictably cannot pass a 5th grade equivalency test or a high school civics test and yet who line up to select our leadership and by extension, in our republican form of governmental structure, our direction for the next several years at least.
The people in those “people of WalMart” internet collections, the morons who derive self awarded macho points for bucking lines, the people at the retail counters who cannot even count change, and the survey takers who do not know what country we fought for our independence or when that happened, will go to the polls to determine directly and indirectly matters of national economic and security and educational issues. Worse, many are gullible recipients of the latest class warfare tactics designed to scare the bejesus out of old folks and tug on our heartstrings to care for “the children” (insert sound of s sniffle) and the “less fortunate.”
For the most part they are all lies. We are now being purposefully frightened by the President about Social Security as he blithely overlooks the law that separates it from the budget process and mandates its benefits be paid no matter what or until congress changes the law itself. But already people have fallen for it and are in a state of panic.
And to muddy the waters entirely, each candidate is calling the other candidates liars and evil people out to bring chaos and mayhem on us all. While all too often that is true, the problem is how do you know which is which? For the brain dead true believer, is it simple: whose party is the candidate affiliated with? Some look back to a time or even a single incident sponsored by a party that worked in their favor and forever after closed their minds and eyes to subsequent actions and were never, in the first place, willing to look more deeply into the likely or possible consequences, intended or not, of those actions on our country as a whole.
I think, though, that is the kind of one-dimensional, abjectly stupid non-thinking that has gotten us in the mess we are in. So, in my opinion, we need a much simpler way of looking at the behaviors and words of those telling us they know best how we should lead our lives and spend our money. I would, therefore, propose a single, specific criteria because it is the one that permeates ALL of the others and is, in fact, foundational to the individual and collective discourse on all political issues. And that is this:
Where do they stand on F R E E D O M?
I’m not talking about “Freedom” in some abstract, philosophical sense, but instead real, tangible, viewable, actionable freedom for the individuals that make up the citizenship of this country. (And no, I do not think non-citizens share our rights just because they are standing on our shores.) It is the core concept on which we were founded and the value that was our guiding principle for at least the first half of our existence as a country.
But it is being undermined and outright attacked on both overt and covert levels, and in one way or another by both parties. And this coming election may be the one that most defines how we will pursue that concept of Freedom into the future. One side wants to have the freedom for themselves to tell us what is best for us and keep us in line by making us dependent upon their largesse and good will. I am virulently opposed to the attitude and philosophy that supports such an outlook because I think it is anathema to any construct of “Freedom.” When we toss away our freedom we will have ceased to become Americans.
However, to achieve the type of Freedom envisioned in our Constitution and in the writing of our founders, we actually need to embrace several constituent freedoms so let’s take a look at them and also a look at interpreting how politicians really feel about them, not from their words but from their actions.
The foundational freedom that determines the types and even existence of our other freedoms is really financial/economic. And the political question boils down to a very, very simple one: Does your political leader want you have the unfettered freedom to apply your efforts and skills to earn (whatever is passing for money at the moment) to the extent those skills and efforts allow?
There are a few corollary questions as well. if they institute the programs they seem to support, will you have the freedom to apply those skills and efforts toward EXPANDING your capabilities and therefore expanding your return? Are you being offered the freedom to determine how YOU wish to apply the results of your own labor and skills? Will you or they determine how much of your own labor you can keep and how much of your labor will be used to support those who do not wish to labor as you have? Will they allow and encourage your own philanthropy or will they impose it on you to carry those who will happily take it rather than solve their own situations (and thereby become very loyal voting blocks for those doling out the goodies to them)?
The complete opposite of Freedom is dependency. Too often people think power is a result of money, but that is not true and never has been. Money can be, instead, a by-product of power (as well as the result of intelligence and hard work), but power itself derives exclusively from dependency. Think about it; if I can make you dependent on me for something important to you then I have power over you.
Machiavelli knew this and so does every actual or want-to-be autocrat who ever lived. So the very first question to ask yourself about a politician running for office is this, “Are they trying to convince me that I need to depend on them for something?” Or are they promising to give you the tools to become dependent only on yourself? If it is the former then run from them as fast as possible; freedom is attached only to the latter approach.
And how is this Freedom taken away? Simple, as history has demonstrated over and over: destroy the currency and enhance the debt until only bankruptcy or hyper inflation can keep things afloat…for awhile. And how does that find explanation in various political philosophies? Socialism allows private ownership of the means of production but has the government control it; in essence tell the nominal owners how to run their businesses. Communism takes it one small step further and nationalizes (by fiat or purchase) businesses so that the means of production are both owned and run by the government.
So ask yourself what all those unelected “Czars” are doing to the means of production and apply it to the goals of the various political philosophies and their attached economic theories and see for yourself what the underlying if unspoken goals really are.
Remember, a benign dictator is still a dictator. Solon and Pericles of Greece were benevolent but were replaced by not so wonderful regimes. Some of Rome’s Caesars did some good things to be sure, but is that slave-based, war and tribute-based, arena sated world one in which you would enjoy living?
Personal Behavior Freedom
The old joke was that conservatives wanted to control your life in the bed room and and liberals wanted to control your life in the board room. But we were founded by thinkers who gave us a Constitution that said we were free to do almost anything that did not harm someone else. So long as we did not endanger others we should be able to control our own lives in ANY room, especially in the privacy of our homes or within the confines of our own businesses. You have an “absolute”right to swing your arms but that right stops at the end of my nose. You have “absolute” freedom of speech but are not allowed to yell, “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. You have the “absolute” freedom to openly worship any deity you want but you may not force that belief on someone else nor can you do harm to them because of their beliefs. You have a right to own a weapon and defend yourself with it but you do not have a right to carry that use to the point of becoming the aggressor yourself once the threat is stopped. And on it goes, all getting to the same point: you can behave pretty much as you want so long as it does not cause harm to someone else.
Or so it was intended…
But that freedom has been eroded by people who believe they should be protected from being offended as well as from being hurt. it has been eroded by people who think they need to be even protected from their own stupidity. Anyone who supports that idea is diminishing personal freedom and trying to create the dependencies of those who are hiding from potential offense or need to be protected from their own failures and errors. And in my opinion are, with that purpose, killing our country and our ideals of personal freedom which also entails the costs of those freedoms. We were, like life, all about choices and consequences. But now we are suffering from the tyranny of so many who want the government to protect them from their own choices and behavior. My advice to them is simple: get a life or go elsewhere!
So where do your political idols stand on this freedom? Look to their actions and if they are already in office, their votes. Listen to their speeches yourself, read their books yourself and do not rely on how other people interpret them good or bad.
Personal Thought and Expression Freedom
Only in the most egregious dictatorships was thought the subject of control. Orwellian horrors accompany every story, real or fantasy, of dictators who attempt to control thought. And yet it is done every day by politicians who cajole you into thinking as they want you to think and into giving up your rights and abilities to think, analyze, and draw conclusions for yourself. Those people control thought as much as any fictional “Big Brother” and given enough power will soon quit being subtle about it.
We see this every time some self anointed enlightened person suggest the people do not or cannot “get it” so have to be told what to think or, better yet, simply allow the politicians to do the thinking for them. King Barrack told us this just this week over the budget/debt issues. The sad news is he has every reason to believe that and in fact is a major beneficiary of it. But if you are tired of it and want to prove him and the other politicians relying on your ignorance of the situation du jour wrong, then it is all in your hands. and all you have to do is start researching the data — it is out there and easy to find.
We are supposed to be a republic, a representational form of government. Not a pure democracy but one in which we elect a subset of us to represent us and pass laws to our mutual and collective benefits. So are they doing as you want or expected or as promised? Are things getting better as they promised would happen or are they trying to tell you that if it seems worse then you are just not thinking about it correctly or clearly and they know better?
Personal Security Freedom
Are you feeling safe in your homes and person? The constitution guarantees that. But like all freedoms there are limitations: you can lose it by threatening the security of someone else. As noted before we have the right of self defense but that right does not allow us to cross the line into becoming the aggressor ourselves.
Be very, very wary of any politician who asks you to trade freedom for security. It is always a bad trade. They are usually building dependencies. if you are truly free you have the freedom to make yourself secure in a world where when seconds may count the police can be there in mere minutes…
Following the French Revolution, Robbespierre wrote a brilliant and impassioned essay showing how, for the good of the state and the security of the revolution, citizens needed to give up some freedoms. THe result was the infamous “Reign of Terror” with people marched in full carts to Madame La Guillotine because they did not think in accordance to proscribed philosophies. The National Socialist parties of Germany and Italy and the Communist parties of Russia and China routinely executed people wholesale for thinking wrongly. do not for a moment think it can not happen here. Already people can be ostracized or even fired for politically incorrect thinking. There are not that many steps between firing and firing squad.
So where does your favorite politician stand on that issue based on actions not on rhetoric? Do they attempt to stifle opposition, clamp down on dissenting voices all the time mouthing platitudes about free speech and intellectual freedom?
The Freedom to Fail
Several times I’ve mentioned the freedom to opt out — to fail — and pay the consequences. It is only when that Freedom to Fail is alive and well that the other freedoms find any real motivation and reward and personal growth. in a frightening way, Marx was right in some ways. Human nature is such that human behavior rapidly reverts to its infantile attitudes of ego-centric world views after a fairly short period of being taken care of by the parent or State. Democracy, and its underpinnings of capitalism, form a very fragile system maintained with difficulty only by the strong because it is under constant attack by the accumulated masses of the weak.
Freedom is so precious because we also have the freedom to kill it or toss it away. Ronald Reagan said,
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free… for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.”
I personally believe we are headed in that awesome and horrible direction towards loosing freedom because our nature is such that too many soft sheets and safe nights have passed and we have forgotten, as a culture, what the lack of freedom was like, what it costs, and perhaps even, to some extent, what it means.
We seem to like and, if recent polls are correct, gravitate towards the public trough because we do not truly understand what we are giving up to get it. We are soft, afraid, unwilling to stand for anything and so, as the song says, we then fall for anything in order to maintain the flow of goodies. In short we are making ourselves dependent on people who have only their own interests at heart and neither ours nor the country’s apart from how it serves their own interests. And that problem crosses party lines with ease.
Of course they would never phrase it like that because then we would all instantly “get it” and push back. so rather, under the sweetest most patriotic rhetoric they lull us into granting them the powers that once were embodied in our own freedoms to think, do, and work for ourselves. We are now facing upcoming choices that will have a direct effect on our retention of freedoms. At this point we have gotten far off of the path of freedom but we can return to it with only some figurative bloodletting politically and some serious sacrifice by the citizens. But if we continue to lose it, we will soon reach a point where it cannot be recovered except by action, if it can be recovered at all. And then it will take what it took in the late 1700s; a real revolution.
Nothing could be more unsettling than that thought because no one ever knows how revolutions will turn out even if they are successful. Our own revolution, which was really less a revolution than a war of independence, concluded with a virtually unique result in the world’s history of revolutions. Without the leadership of those founding thinkers it is impossible to have high hopes that we could do it again. We can maintain our freedoms easily at the voting booth. But once lost, they can only be recovered by the same price that gained them in the first place, blood; and by the same people: soldiers.
In 1970 Charles Province wrote a few lines that expressed it well. (Historical note: his poem was submitted to “Dear Abby” by a marine Chaplain who was given (but never claimed) credit for authoring it.) No matter who really wrote it, the message is important and vital for us to understand, not only to give thanks in the right direction for our Freedoms but to understand what the price will be should we throw it away politically and then want to reclaim it.
It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.
It is up to us now. Time alone, and not very much of it, will tell if we are still strong enough or wise enough to reclaim the freedoms that once were ours. if you want to retain freedom you will have to put some energy and time into it. That is tough, but not nearly so tough as having to put your blood into it.