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The Common Good
Author: BobR    Date: 01/09/2013 13:54:18

We face a lot of problems in our country. There's poverty, gun violence, racism, a dysfunctional Congress... and a media that breathlessly keeps the pot stirred up. There's a lot of fear because fear sells. Fear of not having enough money, of the shame of not being able to keep up with the neighbors, fear of "the others" with different skin tones or fashion choices or accents, fear of not getting reelected...

As Americans, we (and I am using "we" loosely here) balk at the changes that would help us. The Cold War has so ingrained a distrust of a powerful government, we label anything that helps us which is government-based as "socialism". We want government to leave us alone to live our lives. We value our freedoms to the point of detriment, to the point of nose-spiting-face. We point to the first Amendment to allow verbal bullying, we point to the 10th amendment to disallow federal programs.

And there are some among us that point to the 2nd Amendment to justify possessing as many weapons and of any variety as they desire. As was said on TV last night, they want it, they can afford it, so the government better not keep them from getting it.

The Constitution is an amazing document in its simplicity. It lays down a framework for how the government should operate, and - for the most part - leaves the specific laws to be created later, outside of the document itself. It has been amended over time, but even with it's amendments, it is still wonderfully concise.

What's interesting is that it's the amendments that are so oft-quoted. Rarely do we hear those seeking to justify their actions or self-interests quote the body of the document. Of particular note is the "mission statement" of the document, that which describes the very reason for creating the Constitution in the first place. I am speaking of course of the Preamble:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

There are certain factions among us who always seem focused on the "justics" and "common defense", and seem to be almost antagonistic towards the "domestic tranquility" and "general welfare". They invoke the names of Stalin and Marx and the "nanny state" as if a totalitarian dictatorship is the only possible outcome when the government actually does provide for the common welfare of its people, while conveniently ignoring the successes of the rest of the civilized world. They promote more guns as the solution to gun violence, ignoring the evidence to the contrary.

It was our most famous nanny-stater of all President Franklin D. Roosevelt who distilled the goals of the Constitution (and - yes - the amendments) down to an essential Four Freedoms (and which was eloquently paraphrased by our own TriSec as our Mission Statement) in his 1941 State of the Union speech:
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb...

We understand the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion. But it's the Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear with which we struggle. Ideology often trumps practicality and - in some cases - common sense. Poor people rail against taxes on the rich. Are they hoping to be rich some day? Do they think the rich will smile down on them and bequeath a shiny coin? This strikes at both of these freedoms. Gun advocates and media and terrorist-spotters use fear to push their ideas and make money. It is selfish and detrimental to the country. It is self-destructive to create fear to promote a system which perpetuates want.

Sadly, our country has bought its own hype, and put personal liberty (and the fear of losing it) ahead of the Common Good. We are not the loose collection of states, we are not the aggregation of individuals, we are the United States of America. We were created to ensure we were all watching each other's backs (per Franklin's "Join or Die" snake illustration). Our very Constitution advocates Freedom from Fear and Freedom from Want ("domestic tranquility" and "general welfare"), yet there are those who consider these notions unAmerican. What is it going to take to get the collective citizenry to care as much about the country as a whole as they do about themselves?

109 comments (Latest Comment: 01/10/2013 05:07:57 by Will in Chicago)
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