We cloak our political grievances in the powerful words of the Declaration of Independence, but the truth is we are sore losers.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” wrote Thomas Jefferson. “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
“— That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government ... But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
The words are frightening, not because of the context in which they were written but because we have adopted the same language to describe modern America.
I searched my recently received emails and found 51 that used the word “tyranny,” most critical of President Barack Obama for either health care reform or immigration and some complaining about corporate political contributions. Thinking it might be a fluke, I listened to a few minutes of talk radio. There I heard we are living in a despotic regime, ruled by a tyrant. In fairness, the conservative fury was ignited by two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, one of which upheld the federal Affordable Care Act and one of which struck down a state immigration law. Had the decisions gone otherwise, the language of revolution would have been coming from the left.
What a bunch of whiners we are.
The American colonists had no representation in a British parliament that passed onerous laws targeting them. What limited legislation the colonies could pass was subject to veto by a hereditary king. Parliament required colonists to buy from and sell to London-based monopolies, imposed taxes on the colonies and required colonists to provide food and quarters for British soldiers.
These and other laws were unpopular in the colonies, but that was not the point. What brought the colonists to the conclusion that they must declare independence was their utter lack of input. They were governed by an external force.
Far from being a monarch, President Obama was elected by a majority. His limited powers can extend for a maximum of eight years, and that only if he again wins a popular election in November. In 2008, most Alabamians voted for someone other than Obama. That does not mean they have no representation, as was the case with the colonists. It simply means that, in one election, they did not get what they wanted.
Despite its nickname, Obamacare was not an imperial pronouncement by our elected president. It is a law that received a majority of votes in a House of Representatives elected by the people of each state. It received a majority of votes from the Senate, which consists of senators that received a majority of votes within their respective states. It was signed by the duly elected president. A Supreme Court, consisting of justices appointed by duly elected presidents and confirmed by the elected Senate, ruled that most of the law was a constitutional exercise of Congress’ power.
The colonists had reason for outrage. They had no significant rights of self-governance. No matter how oppressive the laws passed by a foreign parliament, no matter how malicious the dictates of a foreign king, they had no redress.
They took up arms not because they lost an argument to the majority, but because they had no representation.
We abuse the Declaration when we use the same words to describe our current condition. Despite our lofty rhetoric, our gripe with controversial laws is not that they are the product of tyranny, but that they are not what we wanted. To make our tantrums seem less childish, we cloak them with the noble words of our Founding Fathers.
Both the left and the right have come unhinged. Whether the issue is immigration or health care, tax cuts or the environment, we cling to our beliefs with hyper-partisan certainty.
We have convinced ourselves that only tyranny — by Obama, corporations, judges, or sinister conspirators of the left or right — could have caused us to lose a political battle.
Our ancestors fought and died not so we could have everything we wanted, but so we could participate in the process of governing ourselves.
In the same Declaration whose language we have coopted for the political disputes of the day, our Founding Fathers noted that not every grievance is cause for secession.
“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes,” Jefferson wrote.
Our Founding Fathers did not rebel because they lost a political debate, but because they had no right to participate in that debate. Our complaints — that we were on the losing side of the latest legislative or judicial pronouncements — are both light and transient.
We need to get a grip.
Contact Eric Fleischauer at www.mile304.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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