Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems. Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.
-Barack H. Obama, 2013 Ohio St. Commencement
Actually, what they suggest is that any government is predisposed to usurp the liberties of its people. What they would suggest is that trust in a government official merely at their own behest is unwise at best and disastrous at worst. But, to be completely honest, it is not the government official for whom we must fear attempted subjugation; instead, it is “from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents” (James Madison, 1788). It is the tyranny of some oppressive majority. Generally, though, a single figure stands ready to exact the pound of flesh which this majority so dearly desires.
“Reject these voices” Obama tells young people…or, perhaps in other words: “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Indeed, the manifestation of a threat to liberty has and will always be a single figure. Is Obama that figure to be feared? Who knows, only time can bear that out; however, I suspect he is only one of the puppets opening the show. The proverbial hand up his back, as with other leaders before him, has been our neighbors and family members and perhaps even ourselves. Eagerly our populace has stood ready to pull the handle for whomever promises to subdue ideological enemies and punish others for our own self-victimization. The choice has largely been either those people willing to seize the property of one man for the benefit of another; or, on the other hand, seize one’s liberty to appease the conscience of another. Both are mere perversions of liberty and, I would assert, share the same outcome: slavery.
There is, however, shelter from the looming storm of statism. Unfortunately, the concept of liberty appears far too risky for those who never lived without it—sloth likely is our greatest sin. Liberty is merely a punch-line for people like Obama and Bush. For two “truths” resonate loudly for both: 1) the people cannot be trusted with liberty, and 2) most of us are more than happy to trade it for payments in-kind. Our weakness invites the shackles that will bind us, be they real or figurative. Ronald Reagan once said:
Socialists…can provide you shelter, fill your belly with bacon and beans, treat you when you’re ill, all the things guaranteed to a prisoner or slave.
This may be the best characterization of socialisms’ ill-fated pursuit. Despite popular opinion, however, the socialists ride on donkeys and elephants; and we should be wary of both.
What then are those of us who yearn for liberty to do—where is our shelter? Not coincidentally, the “they” who Obama speaks of are very much the same as the “they” who founded our great nation. And those great minds and greater men gave us a weapon to defend ourselves from tyranny. They armed us with words whose sole purpose was to warn us of tyranny and provide the tools to defend ourselves from it: the Bill of Rights.
What is the Bill of Rights? In school it is an inconvenience we have to remember for one test. In our adult life it is only the 1st Amendment (part of it, anyway) for Democrats and simply the 2nd and 10th for Republicans. But, in a broader sense its purpose was the explicit outline of what tyranny may look like. In fact, if tyranny was not even a possibility, the Bill of Rights would be unnecessary. Furthermore, for those who claim the mere age of the Constitution is proof of its own irrelevance and short-sightedness; they would be wise to appreciate that it is the very blanket of liberty which keeps us warm at night.
For example, in the last couple of years alone, the news has been filled with government acts which challenge the:
- 1st Amendment (“Obamacare” and the Catholic Church; Rosen from Fox News, etc.)
- 2nd Amendment (gun control efforts)
- 4th Amendment (NSA data collection, phone tapping, etc.)
- 5th Amendment (illegal government takings during TARP)
- 8th Amendment (NDAA, again)
- 9th Amendment (the one the statists of neither party like)
- 10th Amendment (Obamacare and unfunded mandates on states)
Maybe the guys in the powdered wigs were on to something, huh? Simply put, our Constitution and the first ten amendments were designed to protect us from our government; and ensure we have the tools with which to protect ourselves from it. This is true even when an over-zealous majority threatens to exercise the government’s monopoly on violence to make us behave in a way which pleases them. It would be fair to say that distrust of government is the founding principle upon which our great republic (not democracy) was built. We would be wise to heed these warnings, not reject them; the cheap parlor trick of the politician is an illusory idea that we are safe because we are Americans. Instead, to retain the freedoms encapsulated in what Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to as the “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir” we must remain ever-vigilant. I leave you with these words:
Although all men are born free, and all nations might be so, yet too true it is, that slavery has been the general lot of the human race. Ignorant—they have been cheated; asleep—they have been surprised; divided—the yoke has been forced upon them. But what is the lesson? That because the people may betray themselves, they ought to give themselves up, blindfold, to those who have an interest in betraying them? Rather conclude that the people ought to be enlightened, to be awakened, to be united, that after establishing a government they should watch over it, as well as obey it.
-James Madison, 1792