Saturday, August 29, 2009

A few notes on freedom and government

When we looked at the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York City, still not rebuilt, we got angry and wanted government to find and punish the people who destroyed it, then hunt down the people who helped them do it. When we went to the doctor and the price was exorbitant or we tried to buy health insurance and were told that our history of illness made us uninsurable, we wanted government to help us get the care we needed at a price we could afford to pay. When our financial system imploded and we lost our houses or our savings or the value of our stocks, we wanted Uncle Sam to step up and fix the problem. When we were mugged on the street or robbed in our homes, we wanted government to find the bad guys, lock them up, and get our possessions back to us. And we wanted all of these things all at once, which meant that government had to be large enough to do the job. And since we added these things to the things which government had already been doing on our behalf every day, this functionally means that government at every level has grown in power, size, and scope significantly beyond where it was in the 1980s when President Reagan talked about government as being the problem, not the solution to our problems.

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.--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, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. - The Declaration of Independence.

It is incredibly important to remember these words when we are tempted to believe that government is something that we should trust unreservedly. Government is a tool that we use to maintain our freedoms, a carefully constrained assortment of organized principles and laws that we use to protect us from foreign interlopers, assure our public safety, and adjudicate disputes amongst ourselves. It is not a benevolent monarch who dispenses freedoms and goodies to us at his discretion and in accordance with our need or our connections.

"Government," as Washington pointed out at our Founding, "is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."

In times such as these when using our great and dangerous tool appears to be the easiest way to resolve our problems; when the force of government is most attractive in resolving the inequities of health care or the vagaries of our market economy; when we want most to simply MAKE our fellow citizens do the right thing instead of taking the time to convince them or outvote them; we must remember Washington's injunction, and use government with care that our servant does not become our master.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Farewell, Senator

I have noted previously that I have little in common with Senator Edward Kennedy, either politically or personally. He was an unrepentant liberal and the scion of a dynastic American family, neither of which remotely describe me or my experience in life. The Senator was a man larger than life, a Rabelaisian raconteur with undeniable personal charm who, nonetheless, had an eye out for those whom society had left behind. It is also true that he was a man with undeniable personal flaws, whose mistakes were played out on a public stage for all to see and comment upon.

It is easy to took at his life and see the man who panicked at Chappaquiddick, whose reckless behavior and appalling judgment resulted in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. It it is also simple, indeed, to focus upon his carousing and womanizing, and make the case that he was nothing but a spoiled rich man's son whose career was handed to him on a silver platter. Many people see these things and leave the story there. But Kennedy's story is also one of tragic losses and, ultimately, of redemption.

He was a gifted politician, a man who understood that to get things done you must, always, get along. Over the years he served in the United States Senate, you would be hard-pressed to discover legislation of any significance that did not have his fingerprints on it somewhere. He counted as friends and allies not only the members of his own Democratic party, but also numerous conservative Republicans with whom he crafted compromise legislation. He, like Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson, understood that getting part of what you want in a bill is greatly preferable to standing on unbending principle and ending up with nothing at all. Besides, having achieved some measure of your goal, you can always go back for more. And he did, time and time again.

He was a devoted father to his own children and a doting father figure to the children of his brothers John and Robert. He was a good and fair boss from all accounts, a devoted Catholic, and easily the most popular and best loved member of the Senate. And he fought the good fight against the disease that ultimately took his life.

Take Edward Moore Kennedy all and all, match the good and the bad against each other, and, on balance, you end up with a good and decent man who will be missed, and who God, in His mercy, will welcome to his rest.