Who says we're free?

(Denver Post, July 22) July 4 has seldom been set up more dramatically for Americans to think hard about freedom, than it was with this year’s Supreme Court ruling on health care the week before. If Congress can compel the behavior of individuals through taxation, what’s really left of our liberty? When you read the decision by Chief Justice John Roberts alongside the Declaration of Independence, it’s striking how different America is today from the time of the founding – not just in the vastly greater size and scope of government, but in people’s demand and tolerance for that massive political presence in our lives. Indeed, the two factors feed on each other in a vicious circle. The Declaration’s brave words about our right to “alter or abolish” an unjust government, about resisting oppression “with manly firmness”, about finding George III “unfit to be the ruler of a free people,” still stir the blood. But realistically, amidst our timid and tepid 2012 notion of what freedom even means, they might as well be runes from Beowulf.

For some of us on the right, who had put too much hope on courts to enforce the Constitution, the June rulings on Obamacare and immigration were an overdue reality check. Self-government in America is too far gone for judges to rescue it, or even harm it much. Constitutional make-believe now prevails in all three branches and at the federal, state, and local levels, top to bottom.

Make no mistake: I’m sorry Arizona’s SB-1070 was not fully upheld and the Affordable Care Act was not struck down. I hope the Colorado Supreme Court rejects the Lobato school finance suit and affirms the Douglas County vouchers. I still believe in judicial term limits, and I’d love to see voters “clear the bench” some year; send’em a message. I hope Romney, not Obama, makes the next SCOTUS appointment.

But if you want this new century to be a time when individual liberty still means something in the United States, and when personal responsibility is honored as liberty’s price, the courts are not the ballgame. Liberty and responsibility must be renewed in the same way they were lost – through values and attitudes, 300 million of us getting the government we deserve. A few black-robed jurists are beside the point.

The independence we celebrate on July 4 “was effected before the war commenced… in the hearts and minds of the people,” wrote John Adams. Well before 1775, Americans had already made a “radical change in (their) principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections.” Our supine acceptance of ever-growing unfreedom and dependency today reflects a radical change BACK, since about 1900.

Likewise, in his famous warning that our government is workable “only for a moral and religious people,” Adams was not speaking from theology, but from the same shrewd psychology as before. Unbridled human passions, he explained, “would break the strongest cords of our (paper) Constitution as a whale goes through a net.” Without a self-reliant and self-assertive, yet self-restrained, citizenry the whole thing would implode.

How close is it to imploding now? Just to ask the question sounds alarmist, I know. Looking around us, stagnant economy and all, we see that life is good. We’re still the land of the free. Summer is on, and gloom is out of season. Besides, in about 100 days we’ll all vote, and the great ritual of settling things by ballots, not bullets, will occur again as so often since 1787.

Land of the free? It depends on your definition. Jefferson and Adams wouldn’t agree. The prophet Samuel warned Israel that the king they wanted would take ten percent of everything. Look what the IRS takes now. Implosion is the wrong metaphor. Think rather of the unsuspecting frog, drowsily boiling in socialist soup. Wake up, froggy.