"Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them -- and then, the opportunity to choose." ~ C. Wright Mills
Where is America's true constitution? Please stay with me for a few minutes, and I will answer this question.
I write this shortly after April 19, the anniversary of numerous events -- positive and negative -- in the freedom movement. April 19, 1775 marked the beginning of the American Revolution; April 19, 1943, marked the start of the Warsaw ghetto uprising; on April 19, 1993, federal agents incinerated 80 innocent people near Waco, Texas; on April 19, 1995, 168 people died in the bombing at the federal building in Oklahoma City.
All these 19s reminded me of "Hey Nineteen," the 1980 hit song by Steely Dan about a 30-plus man who realizes how little he has in common with a girl of 19. I know not whether Walter Becker and Donald Fagen had any political intentions when writing the song, but let us consider these lyrics.
Hey Nineteen, That's 'Retha Franklin, She don't remember, The Queen of Soul, It's hard times befallen, The sole survivors, She thinks I'm crazy, But I'm just growing old.
Hey Nineteen, No we got nothing in common, No we can't talk at all.
Hard times have befallen the freedom movement, especially since September 11, 2001. More than ever, the American people are clamoring for their government to solve all their problems. Dubya and his media lapdogs tell us that we must surrender more of our freedoms if we wish to remain free. Dubya's supporters swallow this Orwellian doublethink without questioning. If you disagree with them, they resort to increasingly hostile and mindless name-calling. "Dittohead" is a term that originated in fun, but now it has frightening implications.
When I challenge them, they look at me as if I have just stepped off a UFO. This is because they have no grasp of the meaning of the American Founding. They just do not speak the Founders' language. They talk a good game about freedom and constitutionalism, but have no clue as to what these things mean. They have put their faith in what is transient and fashionable rather than enduring and eternal. As the song goes, "We got nothing in common, no we can't talk at all." Our priorities are just not the same. They have lost understanding of something far more important than Motown.
Webster's gives several definitions for the word "constitution." These include "the physical makeup of the individual comprising inherited qualities modified by environment" and "the structure, composition, physical makeup, or nature of something." When we say someone "has a strong constitution" we mean they are -- as Tom Wolfe described the original astronauts -- made of the right stuff. We mean that they are resolute and handle adversity well. What kind of stuff are the American people made of anymore?
America's written Constitution does not give us rights. God gives us rights. The Constitution merely acknowledges that rights existed prior to civil government -- there's an oxymoron for you! -- and that government exists to protect these rights. The Tenth Amendment forbids the federal government from exercising any powers other than those few, defined powers expressly delegated to it. The Constitution was written so that the people might restrain the government, and not the other way around.
When Ben Franklin was walking out of the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked him, "What have you wrought?" Franklin answered, "A Republic, if you can keep it."
The great question facing America today is whether or not the American people have the right stuff to keep this country from coming under a full blown dictatorship. Intellectually, do they understand the source of our rights and freedoms? Historically, do they understand that whenever people have not been vigilant in defending their freedoms bad things happen? Personally, are they willing to accept the responsibility that goes along with being free? By this last question, I do not mean that some wholesome sounding government should pass a bunch of laws in order to make them responsible. I mean that they as citizens must accept moral and economic responsibility for themselves, their families and their society.
Bill Clinton was a socialist, a tyrant and an all-around rotten guy. However, I never obsessed much about him. Yes, he was a problem, but he was not the problem. When GWB took office, I was not elated. I have been far harsher on GWB than I was on his predecessor, and with good reason: GWB is a far bigger socialist and tyrant. Oh sure, he has not whored around with any interns or lied under oath about his dalliances. But he has done nothing but expand and augment all the programs and departments that his supporters say they hate, as well as giving the federal government numerous new powers that his supporters absolutely love. While we are quoting rock lyrics, let me paraphrase Pete Townsend of The Who: Meet the new boss, worse than the old boss. Evil comes in many forms other than sexual. No party has a monopoly on it.
The tyrants of old were at least straightforward about their intentions: they wanted to rule. From the pharaohs of the Old Testament until, say, King George III, tyrants did not rule under the guise of any grand utopian plan for humanity. They just ruled. They may have been cruel and obnoxious, but as long as you did not threaten them politically they pretty much left you alone. It is only since the French Revolution that they have exercised their thuggery in the name of some higher ideal.
C.S. Lewis once remarked that, "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
Perhaps this is why governments have become far crueler in the last 100 years than at any time before. Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Il-Sung and all the other superthugs of the last century all thought they were doing the world a favor. In the twentieth century, governments murdered 170 million people.
In America, we are heading down a perilously slippery slope. No matter who is president, roughly half the people believe anything the president says. Both factions of our ruling class have extensive agendas that purport to make things better, but in fact make things worse. The God-given rights of the citizenry -- shall we now call them "subjects"? -- are of little or no importance. All that matters is that people "feel good" about what their "leaders" are doing.
Our political language is so ridden with clich's that we have lost the capacity to think seriously about the real world effects of government policies. When asked about the mass deaths in the Ukraine during the Moscow-created famine of the 1930s, Joe Stalin remarked "To make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs."
Clinton was not Stalin and Bush is not Hitler. However, try pointing out just how much their policies -- for example, the War on Poverty or the War on Drugs -- have failed and you will get a similarly cavalier response. What matters most anymore are the intentions of and the person making the policy, not whether the policy works in the real world. No wonder dictators can attain power. As long as they have a flock of people who will believe anything they say, attaining unlimited power is easy.
We are desperate today for "leaders." Where do we want them to "lead" us? Is it not enough for our lords temporal to secure our God-given rights and otherwise just leave us alone? Or do we need to be led and to feel good about it? We want our rulers to be quarterbacks rather than merely referees.
America's true constitution lies in the hearts and minds of its people. If people are ignorant, gullible and easily led, they are easy prey for tyrants. Indeed, one of the key slogans of The Party in George Orwell's 1984 was "Ignorance is Strength." Today, too many of us could give a rip about our God-given freedoms as long as we feel good about who occupies the Oval Office and the intentions of their policies and agendas. Heaven forbid that contemporary Americans peel back the rhetoric and research the real-world implications of the policies that make them feel so tingly inside.
The Founders were made of different stuff--to my mind the right stuff. They recognized arbitrary and capricious government as evil. When it became too hostile, they had the fortitude to just say no to it. They did so at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, and again in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. All the fiery rhetoric of Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson was directed at a "tyrant" who was one-tenth as heavy handed as the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
James Madison once remarked that, "We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions . . . upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."
The choice is clear. We can either govern ourselves and take responsibility for ourselves and once again become a free nation. Or, we can let ourselves be led, governed, manipulated and, eventually, enslaved. Whatever happens depends upon our character, our mental and moral make-up or, if you will, our constitution. Are we made of the right stuff for freedom?