It is appropriate, maybe even fortuitous, that as we move toward this week’s celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the nation is embroiled in a national controversy over government spying on its citizenry and the balance of personal privacy against public security.
At the core of that debate — much as was the case in 1776 when the nation’s forefathers penned the document declaring our independence from Great Britain and King George — are questions about the manner in which the government treats the general populace.
The most casual reading of the Declaration provides ample proof that those famous men who attached their signatures to the document felt the king of Great Britain had embarked on a rule of tyranny, most readily evidenced by his failure to abide by the laws that existed at the time.
“He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good,” reads the nation’s foundation document.
The drafters of the Declaration went on to provide a running list of abuses of the people of the colonies and the king’s consistent failure to follow the rule of law. The nation’s founders rebelled against the notion that any government, no matter how powerful, should be allowed to do as it chose outside the rule of law.
You have to wonder what those wise and learned men would think of today’s government in the country to which their act of rebellion gave birth. Would they believe that the government, under the auspices of providing for the common defense, had the right to invade the personal lives of the governed to the extent that has become obvious in recent weeks?
We think not.
No one who watched the Patriot Act come into existence after the terrorist attack of 9/11 can truly be surprised at the most recent revelations of government excess in gathering personal and private data about American citizens from all walks of life. Though some of those who drafted the Act have recently said it was never intended to allow what we now know has happened, there was little doubt that the potential for abuse was ingrained in the legislation from the beginning.
So now what? Do we accept the loss of privacy as the cost for fighting terrorism? And if we do so and subsequently watch our personal freedoms and liberties continue to erode and disappear, have we not allowed the terrorist to win anyway?
Sadly, for most Americans, the entire debate is much ado about nothing. As long as the grill is hot on July 4, cable TV delivers the promise of entertainment, and there is food in the refrigerator, abstract arguments over freedom, liberty and abusive government power are of little interest.
“… all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed,” reads a prophetic line from the Declaration.
We are more prone to suffer evil than to take the steps necessary to right what is wrong with our government.
Had our forefathers felt the same way, we wouldn’t be celebrating this week.