(Denver Post, July 4) Hecklers, on guard. On this Independence Day, in a stormy election year when Americans are out of sorts, I’m fool enough to mount a soapbox and orate upon the proposition that “politics” should be an honored word, not a dirty word, in our vocabulary. Politics deserves its bad name, you scoff. It’s a hustle wherein we are lied to and led on, defrauded and dumped on. H. L. Mencken nailed it, you say, when he groused that an election is but an advance auction of stolen goods. Will Rogers was right that just as “con” is the opposite of “pro,” so Congress is the opposite of progress. Fie upon the politicians, the parties, and all their tribe.
I concede your indictment up to a point. But before you let fly with the rotten vegetables, remember that the Greek derivation of politics, 2500 years and counting, simply denotes those things concerning the community, or city, and its individual members, or citizens. Can we write off those things? Not unless we’re prepared to live in solitude as hermits or in servitude as slaves. I’ll take my chances with politics, messy as it is.
Like any human endeavor, politics can be done in a noble or a base way. July 4 commemorates the noblest political moment of all – our nation’s birth in genius, blood, and fire. But the Fourth also looks forward, reminding us how timeless our political challenges are across the centuries, powdered wigs and parchments aside.
Prove it to yourself today by reading quickly through the Declaration of Independence. The Framers, after a lofty opening argument on “laws of nature” and “self-evident truths,” enumerate specific grievances like hammer-blows to pound home the case for change. They deliver (speaking of indictments) a 27-count rap sheet convicting king and parliament of intolerable misrule.
It’s as gritty as a police blotter and, at many points, as current as this hour’s 9News crawl. You’ll notice amazing relevance of these issues from 234 summers ago, into a 2010 campaign over whether Betsy Markey and the Democrats or Cory Gardner and the Republicans control Congress; whether Colorado’s legislature stays with the Dems under Sen. Brandon Shaffer or shifts to the GOP under Sen. Mike Kopp.
Jot a number by each itemized act of tyranny, and follow along with my examples. Taxation without consent, top of the Cliff Notes but only Item 17 for the revolutionaries, remains a flashpoint for TABOR defenders today. Immigration and ill-defended borders, Items 7 and 27, fester still as the Arizona model beckons many Coloradans.
Bureaucratic bloat with “swarms of officers to harass our people,” Item 10, will be a target as McInnis or Maes battles Hickenlooper for governor. Judicial impartiality and accountability, Items 8 and 9, will animate this year’s Clear the Bench campaign. Redistricting, Item 3, will polarize next year’s legislature.
Correlating the colonists’ complaints to issues in present-day Washington is equally easy. Civil-military jealousies, Item 12; federalism, Item 2; trade, Item 16; and counter-terrorism laxity allowing “merciless savages” to plot “undistinguished destruction,” Item 27, all have their 2010 counterparts.
As the Bible observes, there’s nothing new under the sun. Ever since Samuel warned the Israelites in 1100 BC that they would regret forsaking decentralized rule under the judges for a centralized monarchy – because taxes might hit 10 percent! – the struggle between limited and unlimited government has raged.
Peruse the magnificent Declaration for five minutes before you sleep tonight, and you’ll know what the men and women of 1776 knew: Politics matters inescapably. Unchecked, political power will “eat out our substance” and “reduce us under absolute despotism.” But harnessed to “the consent of the governed,” it can uphold both liberty and community. The choice is ours.