Posts Tagged ‘right to free speech’

To Be American

July 4, 2010

I. What is it to be American?

What is it to be an American?  Is it to live at certain points on a map?  Is it to have the right to vote?  Is it to have the right to free speech?  Is it to have the strongest military?  Is it capitalism?  Is it George Washington?  Norman Rockwell?  William Faulkner?  Aaron Copland?  John Wayne?  Baseball?  Apple pie?  All of the above?  None of the above?  Or is it something much more?

II. America is an Idea

America is really an idea: an idea of liberty, or freedom.  It is an idea that recognizes man is born with certain rights which are inseparable from him.  It is an idea of a new nation.  A nation based on a form of government by the consent of the governed, founded on certain principles, and granted certain powers organized in such a way as to best secure those rights and liberties for the people it governs.  This idea of a new American nation is set out in two separate but interconnected documents: The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.  The Constitution flows from and is a natural outgrowth of the principles of the Declaration. 

III. The Vision of the Founders

The men who created and shaped these two documents, America’s founding fathers, were men of great vision but also men of practical common sense.  They truly believed they were putting forth self-evident truths, but they knew full well the radical departure they were taking from what must have seemed, at the time, the destined march of human history.  So when Thomas Jefferson put ink-dipped quill to paper, the Declaration of Independence, he knew, would be a fundamental rejection of all other forms of government extant at that time.  Most especially, the Founders of the new American nation were intent on differentiating and separating themselves (or dissolving all political bands) from the country that was their progenitor turned antagonist: Great Britain.

In taking this upon themselves, the Founders relied on the protection of Divine Providence and pledged to one another their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.  If they failed, they knew that their lives would be over, and that no future history would remember them for long.  Indeed, they and their cause would be a mere footnote to history: rebels who dared challenge the might of the British Empire and who were justly crushed by it.  But they did not fail.  Miraculously, they succeeded in their cause.  They prevailed, even though at times all seemed lost. 

The Founders knew, however, that it would not be enough to merely win.  They knew that if they were victorious over the British they could not simply substitute one kind of tyranny for another: one despotic ruler for another despotic ruler.  No, the form of government which they would need to create and put in place would have to be something quite different from the European model of a supreme centralized state authority as embodied in the personage of a king.  Indeed, so worried were they about this, that the first form of government they ratified, the Articles of Confederation, was hardly a government at all.  It was so removed from any central form of government that it resulted in near anarchy and was an utter failure.  So they tried again.  And this time they got the balance right.

The Founders envisioned and created a new and unique form of government.  They foresaw that if they put in place only that government which was absolutely necessary, such conditions would allow the maximum amount of liberty for the people.  They knew government could never deliver happiness to people and, if it ever tried, it would only create the opposite result.  Rather, they understood that if people were merely allowed to pursue their own happiness, that they would, and that in their own way they would find it.

They also foresaw that power in such a system of government would need to be diffuse.  They understood all too well that men were not to be trusted with power: that they were easily corrupted by it.  Hence, the form of government they would establish would have power so balanced and so spread throughout its various layers that no one individual or group of individuals could credibly accumulate and concentrate power and so pervert the system into tyranny. 

And so, the formulation of a system of government was created based on certain guaranteed liberties and certain checks and balances on power.  It was to be one that would be a bulwark against those unscrupulous individuals who crave power and would seek to use power to subvert liberty.

IV. American Exceptionalism

Alexis de Tocqueville

So unique was this new system of American government that people began to talk about it, and the concept of “American Exceptionalism” arose.  American Exceptionalism is something I have touched on several times before in these writings.  It is a philosophy that can be traced back to Alexis de Tocqueville, a French historian who in the 1830s travelled throughout the young American nation and was quite impressed by what he saw.  And no wonder. Coming from Europe where despotism was still entrenched, American democracy was a refreshing and remarkable experiment.  So inspired was he that he wrote about it.  His treatise, Democracy in America, is a major work on the early American nation, its government and society.  In it, he depicted America as having established a form of government that created a remarkable balance between individual liberty and the needs of the community.  In this, he saw the young American nation as truly unique in the world.  Indeed, it was exceptional.

V.  Abraham Lincoln and American Liberty

Abraham Lincoln also knew that America was a unique and exceptional nation.  Delivered in the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is a kind of testament and prayer in recognition of America’s unique position in the world.  At the time, the fate of this nation “conceived in liberty” must have seemed very much in doubt, and Lincoln obviously feared that this, the only beacon of liberty on earth, could very well be snuffed out.  On this July 4th, it is worth remembering his stirring and enduring words:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.  Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.  But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate…we can not consecrate…we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. –Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863.

The nation survived that ordeal, but both Lincoln, and the Founders before him, knew that this unique concept, this idea of liberty embodied in a nation, would be tested throughout its existence, as it had been during the Civil War.  And they knew it would be tested from without and from within.  The year following his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln made the following statement on liberty:

We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names—liberty and tyranny.  –Abraham Lincoln, 1864

VI. Liberty and Tyranny Today

Lincoln’s quote on liberty and tyranny seems most prescient.  For in America today there are those who would call a thing liberty when it is really tyranny.  They are Americans who would do with other Americans and the product of other Americans’ labors as they please and all the while call that liberty.  Or compassion.  Or spreading the wealth.  Or social justice.  Or socialism.  But by whatever words they may call it, it has but one name: tyranny.

They are the ones Lincoln and the Founders forewarned us against.  They are the ones who would test liberty again and again and, if they could, take America away from what it was and remake her into something else.  They would use the power of the government as a tool to compel Americans to do what they think Americans should be doing with their lives.  They would use the power of government to compel Americans to embrace certain things and give up other things; to compel Americans to obey certain rules but dispense with other rules.  And they would call these actions the granting of “rights” and they would do so operating under the banner of liberty.  They would change, if they succeed, the very idea of America.  

And they are succeeding.  They are doing these things right now, and they are doing them from within.  There are leaders in America today who think it is government’s role and function to change people’s inclinations: to get them to do what they think they should do.  They seek to enact laws that purport to make certain groups or classes of people healthier and happier; or laws that are intended to make things more affordable, or safer, or cleaner, or easier, or more efficient; or laws designed to advance a particular cause or industry or private—but politically connected—entity within an industry.  In essence doling out happiness, to some.  And all at the expense of other people.  This stands diametrically against everything the Founders envisioned for this country.  And it is an anathema to the very idea of America.  Charity and compassion when compelled by governments, are neither charity nor compassion.  They are hoped-for handouts, that in turn become expected welfare, and that in turn become entitlements.

Most Americans today don’t think or probably even care much about all this stuff.  For them, it is just a bunch of politicians bickering, as usual.  But make no mistake: there is a war going on right now and right here in America.  Not a war fought with guns and bullets (at least not yet) but with ideas.  And the victor will determine the kind of nation we will be.  On the one side are those who believe the Founders got it right from the beginning.  That their formulation is one that works better than any other system ever has or ever could.  On the other side are those who think that the Founders’ views, while perhaps historically interesting, are to be seen as quaint and misguided, and in these modern times, certainly outdated.  They see the Founders as just a bunch of decrepit old white men who dressed funny and wore funny wigs and who just “wouldn’t get” what America is all about today.  They see America as having run its course, as being on the wrong side of history, as needing to be more like modern Europe or other nations of the world.  They see America as a country in desperate need of change, or even “fundamental transformation.”  There is no single idea or viewpoint that could be more wrong or more dangerous to this country’s existence than this one, for it takes aim at the very heart of what we are.

VII. Conclusion

What makes us exceptional, unique and unlike the other nations of the world, both past and present, is an idea.  An idea of liberty that binds us together as Americans.  We, as a nation, took a divergent path off of the historical road towards strong centralized government.  Yet, there are those who would have us return to that road and become more like other nations.  If we do, we will move further away from what we are meant to be: further away from what it means to be American.

The Founders bequeathed to us and made us stewards of a simple and elegant formula.  A way for a self-governing and self-reliant people to pursue happiness on earth.  For the Founders, it was their vision, their dream.  And to be American today is to have the great privilege to actually live this beautiful dream as a reality.  Now, why on earth would we ever want to change that?

Related posts on this topic:

https://culturecrusader.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/coming-undone/

https://culturecrusader.wordpress.com/2010/03/22/america-r-i-p/

https://culturecrusader.wordpress.com/2010/03/20/why-you-don%e2%80%99t-have-a-right-to-healthcare/

https://culturecrusader.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/the-arrogance-of-hope-change-%e2%80%a6-or-else/

https://culturecrusader.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/glenn-beck%e2%80%99s-cpac-speech-tiger-woods-and-toilet-bowls-a-blackboard-and-brilliance/

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Bill Clinton: Extremist in Chief

April 21, 2010

Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty. —Thomas Jefferson

 

In a speech given last Friday, commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing in which 168 people were killed and hundreds more injured, former President Bill Clinton said, in part, the following:

“Before the bombing occurred, there was a sort of fever in America… the fabric of American life had been unraveling. More and more people who had a hard time figuring out where they fit in, it is true that we see some of that today. … This Tea Party movement can be a healthy thing if they’re making us justify every penny of taxes we raised and every dollar of public money we spend, but when you get mad, sometimes you wind up producing exactly the reverse result of what you say you are for.”  (Emphasis added.)

Then on Monday, in an article appearing in the New York Times’ Op-Ed section, Clinton drew similar parallels between the conditions leading up to the Oklahoma City bombing and the political climate of today. Here are some excerpts:

“Finally, we should never forget what drove the bombers, and how they justified their actions to themselves. They took to the ultimate extreme an idea advocated in the months and years before the bombing by an increasingly vocal minority: the belief that the greatest threat to American freedom is our government, and that public servants do not protect our freedoms, but abuse them. On that April 19, the second anniversary of the assault of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, deeply alienated and disconnected Americans decided murder was a blow for liberty. Americans have more freedom and broader rights than citizens of almost any other nation in the world, including the capacity to criticize their government and their elected officials. But we do not have the right to resort to violence — or the threat of violence — when we don’t get our way. Our founders constructed a system of government so that reason could prevail over fear. Oklahoma City proved once again that without the law there is no freedom. Criticism is part of the lifeblood of democracy. No one is right all the time. But we should remember that there is a big difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws.

We are again dealing with difficulties in a contentious, partisan time…. Fifteen years ago, the line was crossed in Oklahoma City. In the current climate, with so many threats against the president, members of Congress and other public servants, we owe it to the victims of Oklahoma City, and those who survived and responded so bravely, not to cross it again.”  1 (Emphasis added.)

Get it? Get the picture? If you are a member of the Tea Party movement or even just sympathetic to the cause, you better watch out! You better watch what you say or else you may be viewed as an extremist or, if something really bad happens, a facilitator to mass murder! So all you grandmothers, disabled veterans and other radicals better just put down your signs, get back on the bus, and get along back on home before you get yourselves in a real heap of trouble.

Liberal shills and other propagandists in the mainstream media as well as some Democratic members of Congress are saying the same thing. It is the same exact message and in some cases they use the same language: this Tea Party thing is dangerous! A year ago, they were ridiculing them. Remember Nancy Pelosi’s Astroturf jibe where she made the cynical claim that the Tea Partiers were really just the artificially contrived invention of a cabal of Republican operators rather than a legitimate grassroots movement? Well, it seems a few defeats at the ballot box have changed their tune. Now, it’s time to pull out the big guns. To get out that big brush and smear the hell out of these folks for having the temerity to speak up against an overreaching government.  And who bigger than Bill Clinton? 

To say that this is not a coordinated effort to besmirch the Tea Partiers on the part of the White House, the Democratic Party and their enablers in the mainstream media is to deny the obvious. The political wisdom of alienating almost a third of the electorate (by some estimates) is highly questionable but riskier gambits have worked before. And this Administration, I believe, is determined to let nothing stand in the way of its Progressive agenda.

 

But I think there is an even more sinister motive at work here. With regard to the ex-President’s words in particular, on its face it would appear that Bill Clinton is merely stating the axiom that words matter; that inciting extremism is a bad thing. 2  Well, of course words matter. (And no one would know that better than “Mr. Depends-on-what-the-meaning-of-is-is!”) But the words that matter include your words too, Mr. President. Indeed, your words matter more than those of most Americans. One could argue that Mr. Clinton, by these series of statements alone, has done much more damage with his words than any home-made signs at a Tea Party rally could do. As Rush Limbaugh put it, Clinton has effectively set the stage for any nut-job, either on the extreme left or on the extreme right, to go out and commit violence. In effect, it legitimizes the motivations of, and provides an excuse for, any wacko who might want to do violence by permitting them to simply say, “Hey, I’m just agreeing with what them Tea Baggers are saying,” or “You know, like Bill Clinton said, ‘The Tea Party made me do it!’ ” And if this, God forbid, should happen, Rush would be absolutely right: the blame falls squarely on Mr. Clinton. Which, in that case, I think kind of makes Bill Clinton the de facto leader of all the extremists: The Extremist in Chief, one might say.

But maybe Bill Clinton isn’t worried all that much about that. Maybe he’s prepared to have the debate over who’s to blame. In fact, maybe that is the scenario that he and their side really want to come about. So that when something horrible happens, they can point and say, “A-ha! See! This is what we’ve been saying all along! We told you they were extremists!” And then they can take whatever measures they believe are necessary to maintain order.  Maybe start by cracking down on all “anti-government” speech.  Followed by a general move toward “regulating” all free speech and freedom of the press (bye-bye FoxNews and talk radio!) through something like the “Fairness Doctrine.”  Then of course you must outlaw all gun ownership.  And in order to accomplish that, freedom from unwarranted searches and seizures would have to be swept aside.  Etc. etc.  It would be like their own version of the Nazi’s Reichstag fire.   Sound far-fetched? Time will tell.

For now, what gets lost in all this commotion over so-called extremism is the fundamental right of these patriotic Americans to peacefully protest under the protections of the First Amendment.  Doesn’t their right to free speech come into play here? Certainly Mr. Clinton doesn’t seem to be a big fan of it. The First Amendment guaranteeing free speech and expression isn’t there just for porn stars and Howard Stern. Unfettered political speech, especially political speech that vexes the sensitivities of the governmental authority, is precisely what the founders had in mind as the kind of speech most needful of First Amendment protection. That a former President, even one as discredited as Bill Clinton, should publicly declare otherwise, is nothing less than an affront to the very Constitution he once swore to uphold. But why in the case of Mr. Clinton doesn’t that surprise me?

I realize all this sounds like a harsh indictment of the illustrious former President, but believe it or not I actually like Mr. Clinton. He’s just a likeable guy: especially as an ex-President. So therefore, I respectfully suggest if Mr. Clinton truly wishes to put his gift of gab to good use, that he go back to using it where it serves him best: picking up slutty fat chicks. That way, nobody gets hurt.

__________________________

Footnotes:

Fn. 1:  To link to the full New York Times Op-Ed article, click here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/19/opinion/19clinton.html?ref=todayspaper

Fn. 2:  Bill Clinton does have one point here: Inciting extremism is a bad thing. In fact, it’s almost as bad as pardoning extremist terrorists during the last months of your Presidency. In August of 1999, just months before his Presidency and under cover of night, Clinton pardoned 16 members of a terrorist group known as the FALN, or Armed Forces of National Liberation, a violent Puerto Rican terrorist group, who were responsible for two bombs that exploded in New York City on New Year’s Eve, 1982. In addition, the FBI linked FALN members to 146 other bombings and a string of armed robberies, resulting in nine deaths and hundreds of injured victims. According to the Wall Street Journal, Clinton claimed he granted the 16 pardons because those who were offered the pardons had “sentences that were disproportionate to the crimes.”  Oh, really?  Well, if Clinton wants to have a discussion about promoting or coddling extremism, let’s start with his pardoning of these vile scumbags rather than picking on grandmothers and disabled war vets who are angry over cuts in their Medicare.

 

Fn. 3: For more information on the German Reichstag fire click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichstag_fire