by Deborah Steele Hazen
As we get ready to cast ballots in the November general election, all Americans – at least those who vote – should put some thought into their basic principles in regard to politics and their beliefs about the proper role of government.
Once we have identified our principles and expectations, we have a basis from which to evaluate the candidates and cast meaningful ballots.
Here are some of my personal thoughts and beliefs about politics and government.
• I embrace what I believe were the intents of the founding fathers of the United States of America. That all people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that governments should not interfere with those rights. Neither is the government responsible for making individuals happy.
• I believe in the philosophy of government expressed in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. That it is the role of the federal government to: “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.”
However, I believe our federal and state governments have gone far beyond their original intent – especially in regard to promoting “the general welfare.” If anyone has interpreted “promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” as the creation of a “nanny state,” I think they’re dead wrong.
Perhaps some of the supporters of expanding government social services are well-intended, but I don’t believe our ancestors fought for our independence from Great Britain in order to retreat into European-style socialism. I don’t think the American dream is to depend on the government for our needs and desires.
The role of the federal government is to establish and operate law enforcement and court systems, to protect the United States from threats originating outside our borders, and, from a practical standpoint, to provide certain public infrastructure, standards for the safety of both citizens and the environment, and to create a climate that is good for “the general welfare,” in which individuals may live in relative security and exercise their freedoms to pursue happiness and prosperity.
As the Bill of Rights provides, all other things are left for the states and individuals to decide.
Those are the “blessings of liberty” – that independent individuals capable of thought and action may choose to live as they will, as long as it does not harm others. The framers of the Constitution were focused on writing a document that would prevent the government from interfering with our individual freedoms. Sadly, I think we passed that point decades ago.
• I belief in the Bill of Rights – the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution – the rights to freedom of religion, free speech, the free press, the right to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances (1st amendment); the right of the people to keep and bear arms without infringement from the government (2nd amendment); the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, that no warrants shall be issued without probable cause, etc. (4th amendment); the right to justice, due process and the assurance that the government will not take personal property without just compensation (5th amendment); the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury and with a counsel for the defense (6th amendment); the right of trial by jury for lawsuits (7th amendment); the freedom from excessive bail and fines, and cruel and unusual punishments (8th amendment); all other rights to conduct our lives as we wish so long as it doesn’t harm others (9th amendment), and that the powers not delegated specifically to the federal government by the Constitution belong to the citizens themselves and to the states as the voters and their representatives decide (10th amendment).
I left out the third amendment – that no soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law – because, while it was a problem during the Revolutionary War – it seems very unlikely that would occur in modern times.
However, one never knows what the future might hold, so, of course, I believe in the third amendment – not just because of the soldier-housing issue, but because it further underscores the founding fathers’ intent to emphasize the rights of the individual over the control of the government.
Clearly, these first 10 amendments to the constitution – written, as stated in the preamble with “a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its (the U.S. Constitution’s) powers…” – have been the topic of much interpretation, debate and court rulings since their adoption in 1791.
I lean towards an interpretation that seems closest to the original intent as viewed through the historical context. The “Bill of Rights” has roots in English common law and is similar to documents previously adopted by the state of Virginia and in England, as well as various writings of the “age of enlightment,” which stressed the rights of the individual and opposed powerful, centralized governments.
While I will not get into an argument about the religious beliefs of the various founding fathers, the fact that the first amendment begins with the guarantee of freedom of religion, is proof of the importance they placed upon it.
At the very least they shared a common heritage in the precepts of western civilization and generally-accepted rules of human conduct.
• I believe that a basic agreement on a code of conduct is necessary for people to live together in a free society. If the following reminds you of the 10 commandments or other parts of the Bible, it is no accident, but, I have left out “commandments” which deal specifically with religion, and obviously have added my own interpretation.
1. Honor your parents. I would extend this to include taking care of your family. The family should be the first to offer help to those in need or trouble. After the family it should be friends and neighbors, charitable foundations and churches. The government should be the safety net of last resort.
2. Don’t commit murder. Kill only when necessary to defend oneself and the innocent, or in defense of liberty against tyranny, and that would certainly include our military and law enforcement personnel.
3. Don’t cheat or break your promises.
4. Don’t be promiscuous.
5. Don’t steal.
6. Don’t lie.
7. Don’t waste your time and your life wanting what other people have and being bitter because you don’t have it.
8. Work hard for what you need and want, but allow some time for rest and reflection.
9. Treat other people as you would like to be treated.
10. If you have more than you and your family need (and most of us still do), help others, volunteer in your community, run for public office, serve your nation.
• I believe in a limited government, and I believe that our state and federal government have grown over the years to a size, pervasiveness and financial unsustainability that is in direct conflict with the free nation envisioned by our founders.
In this column last week and in the past, I have given numerous examples of inefficient government and have railed about entrenched, expensive bureaucrats, who seem to be more concerned with the perpetuation of their jobs than truly serving the public.
We have also given examples of good government.
Generally speaking, I think local governments are better than the state and federal governments, largely because they are closer, more accountable and responsive to the people they are elected and/or paid to serve.
The concept of “the government that governs least governs best” was expressed by many who helped to shape our nation including Thomas Paine, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and, later, Henry David Thoreau.
Jefferson’s complete quotation is: “the government that governs least governs best, because the people discipline themselves.”
That relates back to my previous point, that our system of government works well only when the majority of people agree on some basic principles, and voluntarily follow them.
• I believe we are at a pivotal point in our history – a point at which we will either continue the current slide into socialism and economic collapse, or turn around, downsize government, and recognize again the value of individual liberty and personal responsibility.
It is not a change that will happen all at once. But when I cast my ballot in November, I will be voting for those individuals (not parties, but individuals) whom I believe have the conviction, courage and strength of character to begin the changes necessary, quoting from Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” to create “a new birth of freedom,” and to ensure “that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”