Just Above Sunset Archives

June 1, 2003 Mail

Home | Odds and Ends | Music Notes | Book Notes | Sidebars | Culture Wars Lost | Culture Wars Won | Gay Marriage | Jesus Flogged Repeatedly | Photography | Quotes | Links and Recommendations | Archives | Daily Commentary (weblog)

I do send out some odd email, and receive equally odd email in return.  Here I will print some of it, with, now and then, my responses.   Before I post anyone's writing, I will ask your permission to post your comments and whether I should use your name or not, or use an alias you wish to use.
Received recently --

Rick Brown, an old friend from college who spent many years as a player in the news business, and knows some of the major players, sent this in.  Seems to me he ought to get his own column in this magazine.  He gets to the core of the matter.  Big time, as Dick Cheney would say.  This in response to my conversations with conservative friends...

Here is his guest commentary.


I'd also like to address your oft-discussed (mostly in conservative circles) question of the "proper role of government." Firstly, "What IS the proper role of government"?

I submit that, in a democracy such as ours, it's whatever the people (within the realm of physical possibility, of course) say it is.

"But," as it has often been argued (once again, mostly in conservative circles), "where in the U.S. Constitution does it say that we're a democracy? We're not one! The founders were fearful of democracy! That's why we're a republic!"

"Not so fast," I reply (although I guess I can drop the phony quotation marks at this point.)  Where in the Constitution it says we are a democracy, is the first seven words! (Should I put our collective memory to the test, or should I just blurt out what those words are?)

"We, the People of the United States..."

Those conservatives who think the guys who kick-started this enterprise back in the 1780s mostly despised democracy are way over-stating the case. Although the framers' understanding of classical history made them suspicious of the "direct" democracy of the ancient Greek city-states, Americans had been largely been practicing something very similar for years before independence, mostly in New England, so much so that James Madison, writing in the Federalist, was forced to argue that the new "representative" nation would necessarily have to be a bit less direct than the "town hall" democracy so many Americans were used to.

Remembering the dictionary definition of democracy being "a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation...," and that a republic is "a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives...," the two are not mutually exclusive, and in fact, it could be argued that we are both. Unlike those old soviet republics, in which only 5% of adults were given access through party membership to a polling booth, this country is (at least in theory) governed by "the (Adult, Non-Felonious) People of the United States."

(By the way: "Where in the Constitution does it say we're a republic?" Do a word search on your computer. It mentions the word only in the context of the feds guaranteeing a "republican" form of government in its constituent states. On the other hand, the document does "imply" a republic through the form of government it describes, just as it does "imply" that the "People of the United States" will be self-governed, rather than be ruled by church people, or rich and propertied people, or for that matter, even smart people.)
But more to the point (yes, there is one, and I'm getting there), those "People" words open the "Preamble" of the document, which I would argue is the most important part of any American document because it tells us not only who we are and what we are about, and also lays out what we have decided, at least in our case, the "proper role of government" will be.

And when you surf through those things the preamble promises we will, through this document, do for ourselves, you will find just after "provide for the common defence" the words "promote the General Welfare."

This, of course, did not mean Welfare in the way the word is misused today, it meant we have the right to improve the general conditions of our society in whatever way we want to. And if "We, the People of the United States" decide this includes looking out for those at the bottom of society's ladder, whether they deserve our help or not, then doing so is well within the scope of the "proper role of government."

In any event, it seems that your conservative friend has been living in one of those little self-governing units that folks formed by mutual consent after all and doesn't even know it! Although I guess no one is forcing him into this club, I also suppose it could be construed by his continuing to live here that he implicitly agrees to live by its terms.

But should he be looking for a place with little or no government, and as an added inducement, little or no gun control? Somalia comes to mind!


(PS: I also hate insurance. Although I'm forced in many circumstances to buy into it, I found a way to get back at the bastards: I never file claims!)