Monday, October 2, 2000

Week of 10/02/2000

The Phantom Exception
- by David Matthews 2

"Freedom...refer[s] to a social relationship among people- namely, the absence of force as a prospective instrument of decision making. Freedom is reduced whenever a decision is made under threat of force, whether or not force actually materializes or is evident in retrospect." -- Thomas Sowell

There was a scene in the Oliver Stone movie "Nixon" where President Richard Nixon was informed that the Congress was prepared to impeach him, and amongst the charges against him was the bombing of Cambodia. Hearing that, Nixon replied with "They can’t impeach me for that, the President can bomb anyone he wants to."

Whether or not that quote was historically accurate was not as important as the attitude that was portrayed in Nixon, a man who would not be told what to do. A man who had reached the top of the hill in politics, the job he felt he was destined to hold. He would not be told how to do his job, neither by Congress nor by the power brokers who worked behind the scenes.

But that resentment was more than just theatrics. That arrogance stance best typifies certain elected officials, men and women who feel that their job entitles them to do whatever they want, without limitations.

Take, for instance, the federal government. All three branches of office are required, as part of their jobs, to take an oath that they promise to protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution of the United States. It’s not as though they can forget that oath.. sometimes you’ll come across a politician who was so eager to be elected that he or she would actually memorize that oath of office. They’ll fantasize about taking that oath.

Well, hey, to each their own, I suppose. Personally, I would rather fantasize about spending some quality time with a few Playboy Playmates.

Now you would think, however, that with people who fantasize about taking that oath of office, that they would take that oath seriously when that dream becomes real, and they are elected to office. That they would, in fact, do everything in their power to preserve, protect, and defend that Constitution.

If only that were so!

Let’s take a look at the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Each of them are unique, because unlike any other provision in the Constitution, it tells the government what it CANNOT do. It spells it out, in words that can be as plain as day. The very first amendment say that Congress shall make NO LAW restricting the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of religion. No law. You can’t get any plainer than that, can you?

And yet we have members of Congress who are ready at a moment’s notice to violate the First Amendment as easily as you or I exceed the speed limit on the highways.

Take, for instance, the theatrical outrage by members of Congress regarding a recent report by the Federal Trade Commission regarding violence in the media. Once the FTC report came out that insinuated that Hollywood producers were marketing violent movies towards kids (the FTC only found one actual incident according to their own report, and simply "assumed" the rest), members of Congress were "insulted" that Hollywood producers were not available at their beck and call to be interrogated.

Hey, if you knew that you were going to be interrogated by a bunch of pompous, arrogant, self-righteous, power-hungry, media-hogging, politicians with delusions of grandeur, would YOU want to be available for their questions? Hell no!

So when they did appear before Congress two weeks later, they already had their answers and their explanations and their remedies. It wasn’t really THEIR fault that some movies were being marketed towards kids.. it was the fault of whatever marketing company they used. However, they did say that they would look into how those marketing companies operated and make the necessary changes.

What they were NOT ready to do, though, was to follow through with some of the suggestions of Congress, such as not put up websites for R-rated movies, for fear that kids might find them. They were not prepared to subject themselves to whatever hackneyed ideas the self-righteous Gods of Mount Morality would fancy.

That led Congresswoman Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas to "fire a shot across the bow" - to use her words - and warned the movie-makers and producers that if they did NOT appease the Gods of Mount Morality, the "Gods" would FORCE Hollywood to submit to them through laws. And a bill had even passed through committee in the US Senate that would limit violent television broadcasts, much like they do for sexually explicit shows, to late nights.

Now folks, I’d like to believe that Congresswoman Hutchinson and those like her are not idiots. That they can read printed words and understand the meanings of those words, and when it comes to speech, that they understand what the words "NO LAW" mean. I’d also like to believe that these elected officials knew SOMETHING about the Constitution and how those first ten amendments limit their power.

So having ruled out ignorance, illiteracy, and idiot savants, one can only come to the conclusion that members of Congress would be willing to yet again violate the First Amendment, and pass laws that would stifle speech that they deem to be offensive. They would knowing and willingly violate the US Constitution.

But the federal government is not the only body of government guilty of gross violation of the US Constitution. State and local governments are just as guilty of violating the Constitution.. perhaps more frequently than their federal counterparts simply because of the sheer number of state and local politicians out there in the US.

The problem in each incident is not that our elected officials do not know that what they do violates the Constitution, which is the law of the land, but rather they believe that those protections spelled out in the Constitution are irrelevant.

Let’s look at how the federal government violates the 10th Amendment, regarding the separation of powers. The Tenth Amendment prohibits the federal government from "federalizing" crimes that would otherwise be handled by the various state and local governments. But when certain states refuse to pass laws that would appease members of Congress, they find ways to coerce those state governments to action.

One way that they love to use is withholding federal funds. Since the federal government is not under any obligation to give money to the states, they can cast conditions on that money. For instance, only giving money to the states whose legal definition of intoxication is at .08 instead of .1 BAC. This political version of blackmail only works, however, when those state legislators feel they need the money more than they need to preserve their authority.

One tactic the federal government has been trying with little success has been the rationality that certain crimes "must" be federalized because they affect interstate commerce. The US Supreme Court shot down this rationality not too long ago when it came to federal rape laws. Serious crime, don’t get me wrong.. but don’t even TRY to explain how somehow that heinous offense directly interferes with interstate commerce!

Worse yet, our court system has a haphazard record of defending our rights. Even when our rights are spelled out in clear, unambiguous language, the courts have sometimes sided with the government, claiming they have what they call a "compelling interest" to restrict those rights. What "compelling interest"? The only "compelling interest" in most instances is that such laws were needed to make the politicians look good in the eyes of the public. In other words, it’s like having our elected officials claim that "the polls made me do it." It’s a virtual crapshoot when our judicial system decides whether or not to lay down the law.

And because of our judicial system interpreting the Constitution in ways that our founding fathers would never have approved of, our elected officials have more or less acted as though there was a little exemption written into the Bill of Rights. An asterisk under each Amendment, with a footnote that simply says "Void where prohibited by law."

Let’s get brutally honest here.. we cannot rely on our government to preserve our rights. Maybe once upon a time that would be the case, but certainly not today. Today, our rights are in danger every time our elected officials meet, and every time the Supreme Court convenes. We are uncertain when our rights will be made null and void with that phantom exemption that our government has more or less scribbled into the Constitution.

If we want our rights to continue on through to our children and our grandchildren, we cannot wait until the politicians come to their senses. They have gotten so used to running things as is that they will NEVER want to change. If we value our rights and our freedoms, WE have to fight for them.. with our voices, with our words, and with our votes.

Now, more than any other time, we must get involved in the political system. Yes, the two-party dominance has put a stranglehold on the election process, but if you look closely and carefully, you’ll see those rare candidates that are genuinely FOR freedom. The ones that take the Bill of Rights seriously, and refuse to recognize that phantom exception that only exists in the eyes of the career politicians. They are the people we should be supporting, and the ones who truly DESERVE to be in office.

And we must also fight for our rights in the court of public opinion. The laws that take away our rights and our freedoms are often preceded by a cheering section of people who care not one whit about freedom, but rather would sacrifice that freedom to obtain a little bit of "safety." These are the people who send in letters to the newspapers and post messages in online discussion boards. The letters are often the same, often speaking out against our rights and wanting the offensive subject of the day to simply be outlawed. It doesn’t matter how, they just want it banned, and banned immediately.

If we are serious about our rights, we must counter each letter and each article with one of our own, supporting our rights. But we must do more than just that. We must also start offering up solutions to those problems that do not involve the government. In other words, we must offer up solutions that really work.

Thomas Paine once said that "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it." And that we must do. We must support it now. Because if we don’t do that now, then the only fighting left will eventually be of the kind that involves REAL violence, not just what you see coming from Hollywood.

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