Random Reflection on Power

What, after all, is liberty?

I have been feeling very powerless lately. So have others. There have been several posts about liberty lately, as it was a prompt for the “just jot it” challenge within the past few days.

In spite of our connected world there is no way for a regular sort to get the ears of people in power. Extremists organize marches, burn things, and run people over with cars. They fill social media with pithy knee-jerk phrases, memes and trolls. More moderate sorts can’t get a word in edgewise; we’re too polite, waiting for people who never stop talking to shut up and listen, then think before responding to complex, nuanced discussions.

Since people like me can’t get any message through to those in power the dominant voices are those of extremist nut jobs and special interests, some of them hostile foreign powers. I sometimes think that the divisiveness we are being told so much about is a result of reasonable people being cut out of the communication loop. Maybe if there was a way for moderates to get some serious press we’d find that things aren’t so polarized. But that wouldn’t make for good copy, just good living and good government. Sex scandals, wars and other conflicts sell and “that’s what it’s all about!” (welcome to the Hokey Pokey world).

It isn’t supposed to be this way. Our forefathers (mostly not mothers, although there were some pretty strong ones and they may have had more influence than we think) didn’t intend for our government to end up this way: with DC lobbyists, big corporations and the KKK having more input and influence than tax paying citizens.

“Taxation without representation” was the rallying battle cry of the revolution. It wasn’t that the leaders then didn’t see the need to provide for “the common defense and promote the general welfare”; those are front and center as the goals for the constitution.  They saw the need for things like roads, schools, and military, but that need wasn’t being met by a far away government making decisions based on what was best for the United Kingdom using the colonies primarily as a source of resources for the good life back home, or by a loosey-goosey every body do whatever they wanted to confederation.

Liberty, as seen generally at that time, was really about having a say, freedom of speech and religion were very important. In the old country libel meant you were saying something the lord of the manor or bishop didn’t like, even if it was the truth, a key difference in the United States is that it isn’t libel if it is true!!!! Accountability and individual responsibility was important also, the reason why we have tort laws. People were not to be trod on, they had rights.

Having a government that was looking out for the people being governed, not people far away, was key to having both the needed provisions for common life and liberty. It wasn’t so much the my-way-or-the-highway attitude you see today. It was recognized that balance was necessary. The checks and balances system was created. It was intended to slow things down and make debate over major changes necessary so that a simple majority couldn’t roll over everyone else leaving 49% of people dissatisfied. Ideas had to be good enough to stand up to scrutiny.

Of course those times were somewhat different: the population was much lower, as was the number of states, so there were fewer voices to balance. There was less ethnic, racial and cultural diversity as well. However, there were a lot of the same types of tension we are seeing today. Examples include: agriculture versus industrial economies in different states, densely populated areas versus sparsely populated ones, different religious traditions in different areas (in those days it was mostly different Christian sects, but they were quite different in both values and lifestyle. Some of the worst violence ever has been between different groups calling themselves Christians.).

So back to “liberty”. How about the people who are affected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (a.k.a., DACA)? How free are they?

In this morning’s paper David Brooks was dissing the Democratic Party pretty badly. Normally I find a lot of points of wisdom and commonality in his op-ed pieces (he writes for the New York Times and a few days later the pieces show up in the Seattle Times, which is where I see them). Today I was disturbed because he was all about politics. I was perturbed a bit for a few reasons, but the one that bugged me most was this: what the Democrats did Friday was exercise one of the checks and balances built into the constitution. I think it is an important tool, all-be-it one that should be used with surgical precision.

However, given the complete lack of trustworthiness and responsible behavior demonstrated by the Republicans in congress, and the fact that 689,000 people are basically being held hostage to that dishonest irresponsibility, this was a case where one can argue reasonably that surgical precision was warranted.

We disagree with the use for the purpose, and, for what it is worth, I agree with Mr. Brooks that there’s a very good chance the Democrats botched it. In my view, however, the thing they did wrong was cave too soon for too little. They played too nice.

The deal they should have made: A one week spending bill with an up/down roll call vote on DACA exactly as it existed one year ago scheduled for Friday at 9 am in both houses simultaneously.

No wheeling and dealing with people’s lives. If the administration wants added border stuff they can figure out how to do it rationally (say within the 2018 budget that should have already been passed, and which should have been a higher priority than a tax bill nobody fully understands that guts the financial stability of our nation) without holding a bunch of innocent people hostage. That Republicans are stooping to this makes me think they don’t have a rational plan, it’s all just extremist hot air, and hostage taking is all they know.


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