This will be a different post today. On many accounts. First, I am writing this free hand. No cutting and pasting a written, edited, reflective document. This post is truly from the heart. Second, this post is not about taxes. The thrust of my writing today is the benefits we enjoy as Americans. Those benefits are derived from one simple characteristic: freedom. That freedom, carved out of a colonial existence over two hundred years ago, is a precious, yet fragile thing.
Many elements contribute to that singular word. The ability to practice one's faith is among the highest. The right to speak one's views, to assemble with like minded people, to be secure in one's home, all contribute. All serve to make us free.
But the greatest of these is what is happening all across America today. Americans exercising their right to vote. Sounds simple doesn't it. Voting. The franchise. The right to choose. Simple, but not so common.
Yes, a number of free democracies exist around the world. But are they really free? Do they all truly enjoy a free democracy under the rule of law? Some do. And some don't.
I have often talked with friends and colleagues about the Presidential election of 2000. You probably remember. It was George Bush against Al Gore. The election was hanging in the balance. You might say it was hanging by a chad.
A chad commonly refers to a fragment created when a hole is punched in a paper, card or similar materials, like computer cards. In the 2000 U.S. presidential election, many Florida voters used a punched card ballot. As we all later learned, an incompletely-punched ballot sometimes resulted in either a hanging chad, where one or more corners were still attached, or a dimpled or pregnant chad, where the corners were all attached, but an indentation was made. These votes were not included in the machine count.
And just what was the result of those bits of paper, those things we sweep up, vacuum up every day? Tillie had the best answer for that question when she says to Mr. Drayton in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, "all hell done broke loose now!"
Talk about hanging in the balance. We weren't hanging by a thread, America was hanging by a chad. The hangman's noose consisted of a paper shard the size of a pin head. Remarkable.
These scraps of paper would determine the outcome of the election of a man to the most powerful office on earth: President of these United States. If the matter were not so grave, the events of that day, and the ensuing days and weeks might have been humorous. All of us remember the television shots. Election officials holding up computer cards and peering intently.
Was the ballot completed properly? Should it count? Could a chad be counted if hanging or pregnant? Officials asked, debated and argued. For days, weeks even, this matter made almost every newspaper. The story was the lead-in to virtually every cable and TV news program.
And then one day the controversy just went away. Yesterday's news. Why was that you may ask? How was it that something so critical was on every ones mind one day and yesterday's news the next? The answer: democracy under the rule of law. The Supremes, those nine robed justices of the Supreme Court, not the singing group, made a decision. In a vote debated to this very day, they determined what could and could not be done.
The truth is, in many so called democracies around the world, there would have been blood in the streets following the decision that resulted in George Bush becoming President. That blood would have flowed regardless of which way the Supreme Court ruled. It is the absence of that blood, of that discord, that makes being an American so truly remarkable.
This country is not perfect. Never was and never will be. No institution constituted of and by men and women can possibly be. I acknowledge that differences exist to this day regarding the decision of those nine justices. Yet as a country we dropped the matter and carried on.
It is possible that our nation's response was a singular event. If you take the time to read history, a lot of history, this 'experiment' as De Tocqueville described, is and has been truly unique in the human experience. In Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville wrote the following about the United States.
"In that land the great experiment was to be made, by civilized man, of the attempt to construct society upon a new basis; and it was there, for the first time, that theories hitherto unknown, or deemed impracticable, were to exhibit a spectacle for which the world had not been prepared by the history of the past."
We cannot give up on this experiment. But maintaining it is not, nor will it ever be easy.
President Andrew Shepherd, a role in the movie The American President portrayed by Michael Douglas, delivers a speech near the end of the movie. Part of that speech is excerpted below.
"Why would a Senator, his party's most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President, choose to reject upholding the Constitution?' Now if you can answer that question, folks, then you're smarter than I am, because I didn't understand it until a few hours ago. America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, 'You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours...' Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the land of the free."
"We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you... is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only -- making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character..."
Shepherd's comments, although delivered in a movie, come dangerously close to describing our current political environment. We have to be better as a country. We deserve better leadership than we generally have received. But we get what we elect. In order to be better, we have to be better citizens. Get involved. Talk about politics. Really talk. And vote.
I started this blog because I believe our tax structure is subtly and surely destroying our liberty. It has been said that money is the root of all evil. I hold that to be true for governments. We can go with the status quo or we can change. But change requires our involvement, reading and learning, in discussion and debate, and at the ballot box. Failure is not an option.
Tocqueville was an ardent supporter of liberty. I share that love and echo his comment.
"I have a passionate love for liberty, law, and respect for rights”, he wrote. “I am neither of the revolutionary party nor of the conservative...Liberty is my foremost passion.”
Please vote! God bless America!