While our country was started in the midst of many words, the core and the spirit can be boiled down to a few words from the Declaration of Independence:
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.
The United States Declaration of Independence
In these few words our founding fathers captured the rightness, greatness, and origin of the most powerful concept in the world. I have an unalienable right to my life; what I do with it, when I do it, and whatever I create with it, including the consequences of my decisions, is up to me. I have an unalienable right to live at liberty, however I please, with no sanction unless I infringe on the unalienable rights of others. I may pursue my own happiness (notice it’s the pursuit of happiness, not the attainment of it) and I may do with that happiness whatever I wish, so long as I accept the consequences of my actions and do not infringe on the unalienable rights of others.
Today however, those rights have been alienated. My life is not my own. I am required to spend my life supporting others, not by my free will, but through pain of punishment. My liberty is curtailed not when it infringes upon the unalienable rights of others, but when it is found offensive by those with influence. My pursuit of happiness is impeded by rules and regulations that have been shown over time to benefit neither those who were the beneficiaries nor the country as a whole, but by those who think through the exercise of power they can make everybody happy. Those who are infringing on my rights don’t even bother to debate the rightness of their decisions, but hide instead behind some nebulous ‘general welfare’ to justify their decisions.
When our independence from Great Britain was won, our founding fathers put together a form of government never before seen on this planet. This great and unique concept was captured in the first three words of our Constitution, “We The People”. This country would be governed at the consent of the governed. So when we see our elected representatives in Congress and the White House ignoring the peoples’ wishes, avoiding contact with their constituents, and passing bills into law with little or no time for their own review much less allow those whom they purport to represent to comment, you can see why the governed hold them in such low esteem. With opinion polls so low and the derision so often heaped on politics, I have heard it asked if our country is still run by the consent of the governed.
The short, though possibly unexpected answer is… YES.
When I hear people complain about Washington, their state capitals, and the general state of the nation, it reminds me of a dog, who when walking by a window starts barking and growling at the intruder on the other side, never noticing that the “intruder” is merely a reflection of himself. We have the government we do because we have consented to that government. During the recent Republican “tsunami”, when talk of radical changes on Washington was all the rage, one simple fact went unnoticed. Of incumbents running for re-election in 2010, over 75% in the House and over 80% in the Senate won. If Congress’ approval rating stands around 13%, how can more than 75% of those running to retain their office win? Put another way, if 87% of the people don’t like how our elected representatives in Congress are doing their jobs, why did we re-hire 75% of them? The answer is, like it or not, while we complain with our lips, we consent with our votes.
We have taught politicians over the years that we will consent to how they do business. We consent to this level of regulation and more. We consent to this level of taxation and more. We consent to this level of corruption and more. We consent to the current rhetoric of class warfare and demagoguery, and as long as you keep doing what you are doing, we’ll keep giving you a job.
We may bark at Congress all we want, but until we see them as a reflection of ourselves and shudder at what that means, they will keep doing what they’ve been doing. We’ve consented to it so far, so why should they change?