Friday, July 01, 2005

July 4th and the Disaffected American

The Fourth of July should be more than just a celebration of our freedom, it should be a time to reflect on how those freedoms came about and how they are best preserved. Writing for The Christian Science Monitor, Derek Maul is concerned the average person is far too disconnected from government.

That's why it concerned me so much last week when the Supreme Court aligned itself with government and corporate interests at the expense of the rights of individual property owners.

It is not the first such move however; I smell the makings of a trend. When the government makes arrests on the basis of secret evidence; when taxing agencies overreach boundaries and abuse their power; when evidence increasingly suggests that, while we trusted them, leaders knowingly deceived us; when members of Congress award themselves privileges and benefits not available to those they purportedly serve; when the lifestyles of our representatives in Washington more closely resemble those of rock stars or European royalty than public servants…

People tend to withdraw when they feel powerless and "out of the loop;" people tend to stay away from the ballot box when they no longer feel any relationship to those who govern; people tend to live outside the political process when they stop believing it pertains to them.

While I don’t share Maul’s pessimism, I do share his concern. Our government is immense and wields power over us in ways that make most Americans uncomfortable. Just this year we’ve seen the federal government pass a law aimed specifically at one family’s private tragedy (Schiavo) and the Supreme Court declare that local governments can seize your house and give it to a hotel developer (Kelo). We’ve seen a Senate more concerned with it’s own internal rules (the filibuster) than governing the nation. And we’ve learned that many of our representatives abuse their relationship with lobbyists to gain swank vacations most Americans can only dream of.

There was a time when the Republicans were the party of small government. But now that they are in charge, they’ve apparently become enamored with their own power and have expanded the federal government at a clip that would make LBJ blush. The Democrats, never adverse to federal power, have been unable or unwilling to slow this expansion and often counter that the Republicans are doing too little rather than too much.

That leaves us citizens more and more removed from our government but increasingly in its thrall. It was this exact kind of disaffection with government that spurred the American Revolution. And it is on July 4th that we must remember our freedom is secured not just in our laws but in our action. For this to be a government of the people and by the people, the people can’t be disconnected.

The good news? Our Founders were smart. Our system is designed so that the people can revolt without revolution. We all can still vote. We all can still run for office. If we don’t like being disconnected from our government, if we don’t like the power being wielded over us, we can change things. It’s not simple, but it’s possible. And it’s a point we should all remember this July 4th.


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