The Human Face of Freedom

What the Berlin Wall Anniversary MeansBy Joe Gschwendtner

The Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago this week. Anyone in Central or Eastern Europe today, 70 or older, has spent over two-thirds of their life under Communism or jackbooted Nazis. That is, unless your courage and ambition made you willing to risk life itself like our neighbor, Emerencia Marton Kanan. Emi was born into impoverished, post-war, Communist Hungary in 1945. At age four, weakened by ingested chemicals, Emi was near death on a straw bed until a man with rare Rh negative blood offered an 11th hour transfusion. Finally off the grim reaper’s list, she then contracted TB and was removed to a hospice/sanitarium. Written off again, her mom brought Emi to her native village Nyoger at a higher, more beneficial altitude. In one of life’s outlying moments, Emi survived on curd from the churn in the milk house to sate her hunger. Open spaces, food of the earth, and perhaps the scent of more freedom put the tuberculosis into remission.

Rough hewn and semi-skilled, Emi’s Dad was a hunted man. A former government worker, he was punished with menial jobs—shoveling coal and building Budapest subways in the 50’s. He had narrowly saved his own life earlier by having escaped a forced shipment to post-war Russian labor camps. He taught Emi two things: Freedom is worth fighting for and to never give up.

At 21 Emi met Frank. He was heady with ideas, ambition and dreams of freedom, ever plotting to escape Communism. Their romance was epic in speed and intensity. They were married in 1967 and Frank Junior arrived ten months later.

Even as Frank Senior planned their Iron Curtain escape, he left the collectives to set up a welding shop with friends in an attempt to rise above subsistence level. His dreams died with him when he was electrocuted by a faulty transformer. Emi was now a widow at age 22. She worked at a local school but her attention was riveted by politics and economics.

After hearing other stories of escape, Emi engineered her own. With $140 and a Communist visa to vacation in Yugoslavia, she located a smuggler who ran human flesh across the Adriatic to Italy. On short notice she convinced her mother to join her, and, along with her sedated son, fled in the night (a story paralleling Disney’s “Night Crossing”).

During eight months in a refugee camp and refusing “easy” prostitution money, Emi survived by ironing clothes for $1.50 a day. On her own terms, she finally secured a passage for three to Chicago. Emi, by dint of her own courage would go on to self-educate, re-marry, and find her way to Colorado and the investment industry, subsequently attaining stratospheric levels of success for a female in the 1970’s. She and her husband Pat now enjoy a reflective life together as they teach photographic techniques and market artistic old world photography in Castle Rock, Colorado.

If there is anyone who can prove the case of America, as land of the free and home of the brave, it is she……….

Joe Gschwendtner is a Castle Rock businessman and writer.

Constitution will survive Dems’ assaults

Last fall I shared in the disappointment of 47 percent of the voters who did not cast their ballots for Barack Obama and feared his stated intention of "transforming" America into a socialist regime. With Democrats in firm control of both houses of Congress, this seemed a likely as well as a fearful prospect. But things are looking up. This week Obama Administration officials indicated that they may abandon the so-called "public option" feature of their health care insurance proposal because of widespread and intense public opposition. This demonstrates that public opinion still counts for a great deal in our republican form of government and, indeed, is capable of doing some "transforming" of its own - - in this case, thwarting socialized health care.

Without forgetting for a moment that Obama and his fellow Democrats still control all three elective branches of the federal government, we know now that, although they can fool some of the people all of the time and even all the people some of the time, they evidently cannot fool all the people all of the time.

It is critical that we understand the explanation for this serious blow to the Obama Administration’s plans for the nation. Many Americans of both parties, and independents, and even some who have had no previous involvement in politics, were outraged that the terms and conditions of nationalized health care were so severe.

This reaction was not because of alleged "lies" by Republicans and "special interests" (doctors, hospitals, drug and insurance companies) that the government would in due course come to dominate the field and that the unprecedented costs would be covered with higher taxes and rationing, doubtless at the expense of those deemed unworthy of "extraordinary" care. That’s all true.

Way back when, we were admonished to be concerned about approximately 40 million people who lacked health insurance, but that was soon overwhelmed by the hard Democrat push for universal coverage to replace the allegedly capricious decision making of the "evil" health insurance firms.

Unfortunately for Obama and the Democrats, millions of Americans have health plans they are satisfied with. Whatever complaints they may have, they look far less favorably upon a one-size-fits-all system which, if Canada and the United Kingdom are instructive, will force people to wait for months for appointments while unsocialized dogs and cats can get theirs with veterinarians far sooner!

This is a time to be grateful for our free commerce which enables health care providers and consumers to agree to plans and payments which are mutually beneficial. Those plans are valuable properties - - private properties - - which belong to individuals and are not subject to confiscation by the government for the sake of "spreading the wealth around."

Thus, private property, the foundation of our free and profitable trade and commerce, has both taken care of the health of millions and enabled them to "speak truth to power." Americans are not mere ciphers in a soulless administrative state but self governing persons.

This is precisely what the founders of modern republican government intended with equal rights under law and immense opportunities for energetic and capable citizens to rise above mediocrity and follow their dreams.

Those same people are free to vote for representatives of their own choosing, knowing that they have the power to vote out of office any miscreants who would take away their right to govern themselves.

It is not surprising that so many people taking part in politics for possibly the first time in their lives should exhibit less polished arts of speaking and writing than those who have practiced them for many years. I remember vividly my own entry during my college years, impatient for change and wanting to be heard. Since then I have seen others go through the same sort of initiation. Experience is a great teacher and the latest entrants will learn the lessons of moderation that others have before them.

Part of that political education consists in taking the long view of things. All victories are temporary, until the next challenge comes along. However appealing the idea of term limits is, our nation needs a continual supply of citizens not only participating actively in politics but seeking public office if they have virtues to contribute to the public good.

One hopes that current as well as future political leaders will appreciate the advantages of the present fortuitous circumstances and bring more and more public-spirited people into legislative and executive campaigns and governing so that we can continue to keep the socialist wolf at bay.

Public assemblies, American style

The Obama Administration has been the occasion for numerous Tea Parties and Town Hall Meetings, which are different species of the genus public assembly.  How they are seen and understood depends a great deal on one’s point of view. As American government is based on the consent of the governed, it is perfectly appropriate and even necessary that public officials be chosen in periodic elections and that the people be free to express their views publicly. While the design of the Constitution is to avoid rule by the people in their collective capacity, relying rather on elected representatives, the First Amendment explicitly guarantees the right of the people to assemble peacefully for redress of grievances.

In our nation’s history, not a few of those public assemblies have been considerably less than peaceful, whether they were in opposition to taxes on whiskey, Jay’s treaty with Great Britain, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, abolition of slavery, the Civil War draft, industrial lockouts, World War I, racial segregation, the Vietnam War or the Iraq War.

Peaceful protest should always have the full protection of the law, and violent protests should be suppressed. The difficulty is that those rioting invariably see themselves as greater in authority than public officials, and the latter sometimes sympathize with the rioters’ goals, if not their means.

It is not surprising that the widespread Tea Parties that protested the record levels of taxing and spending by the Obama Administration should be viewed favorably by Republicans and unfavorably by Democrats. By the same token, the Town Hall Meetings called by the President and a number of Democratic Congresspersons and Senators are looked upon by Republicans as stage-managed affairs, lacking legitimacy.

So some Democrats supportive of Obama showed up to put a damper on the Tea Parties, and evidently more persons–of both parties–critical of the President, particularly his health care plan, have shown up at the Town Hall Meetings. Both parties clearly seek to establish their viewpoint as the authentic voice of the American people and the opposing view as merely a minority faction.

Although I welcomed the Tea Parties and look upon Democrat Town Hall Meetings with suspicion, I cannot say that I am pleased that more and more citizens are taking their grievances so noisily into public places and meeting halls. A major contributor to this development is the rise of Big Government, which treats opposition to its goals and methods as essentially illegitimate.

Fortunately, this year’s protests lack the violence that characterized the radical left’s opposition to the War in Vietnam, when both public officials and private citizens were targeted for bombs by the likes of the Weathermen, of which Obama friends Bill Ayers and Bernadette Dorn were members.

It is always a challenge for politicians to deal with tumultuous assemblies with a combination of good humor and firmness, granting the legality of the protest but seeking to defuse its passion and restore civil discourse. Politicians slandering citizens angry over the government’s less than candid explanation of its programs are pouring fuel on the fire.

This present situation is not unlike that of medieval Europe, ruled by monarchs and priests, in which ordinary people had no say and whose only form of protest was armed rebellion. It is only when citizens finally won the right to elect their leaders that the frequent resort to mob violence was no longer necessary.

But the longer that large, intrusive and costly bureaucratic structures dominate our lives, and render citizens powerless, the more those otherwise not inclined to angry outbursts will feel compelled to vent their spleen at the persons they chose to make their laws.

Far better, though, that we take advantage of constitutional structures that enable the people to vote for or against those persons they believe do–or do not–have the best interests of the nation at heart.

Democrats have long believed that, just as they have a monopoly on holding public office, they alone have reason to protest, even violently, if they feel strongly enough. Republicans more commonly look upon public office as a temporary calling and reluctantly take part in public protests.

And while leading Democrats have attributed base motives to Republican protestors (special interests, Ku Klux Klan members and even Nazis), the latter have not gone beyond labeling Democrats (accurately) as big taxers and spenders, socialists and petty tyrants.

We have an opportunity to restore government by the people in the 2010 Congressional elections and the 2012 Presidential election. That’s where the protests will really count.

When kindness is against the law

[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.- St. Paul In the face of domination of the world by the Roman Empire, the most energetic of the Christian apostles asserted that moral virtue was still lawful. Of course, Paul knew that virtues were not widely practiced or held in high regard. Are virtues any more safe to practice now than they were two millenia ago?

This question may strike some as perverse, for are we not living in a society, as Abraham Lincoln once said, "conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty than any of which the history of former times tells us[?]" And are we not committed to caring for the less fortunate through vast government programs?

It is true that, while the tribulations of the human condition are not absent in our country, the daily practice of the virtues by millions of people–in families, at work and play, in government and the private sector–make self government not only possible but eminently desirable.

But no blessing can be taken for granted. Virtuous living, like any other great and good thing, requires practice and even habituation. Are there any threats here and now to the continuing beneficial effects of human virtue in our midst?

Let’s focus on the virtue of kindness. Some years back, genuine concern was expressed about the utter lack of kindness implicit in the random acts of violence too often committed in our inner cities, college campuses, places of business and governmental offices. The not entirely playful response by some was to urge everyone to engage in random acts of kindness instead.

No doubt the suggestion was well meant. But a moment’s reflection makes it clear that violence can be discouraged much more by habitual acts of kindness. In a well-governed political community such as ours, it is no accident that people tend to be kinder to each other than in tyrannical regimes in which the rulers treat their subjects as if they were a lower order of being.

Indeed, when slavery was legal in America, even the most benevolent slave master was free to indulge his whims. Thomas Jefferson, a slave master himself, wrote, "The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other."

Classical philosophy and Christianity both teach that friendship is the cement that holds societies together. The Greek philosopher Aristotle observed that democratic societies, which are based on the principle of equality, are more conducive to friendship than any other. Jesus taught us where we can to make friends out of enemies.

Those of us living today, as Lincoln observed in 1838, "toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of [these fundamental blessings]." As in antebellum days, so in ours, we have the obligation to pass moral virtue on to our descendants.

The most fundamental threat to the lawfulness of the most gracious virtues lies in widespread rejection of what Jefferson called "the moral law.". Clearly, portrayal of gratuitous sex and violence in the popular arts does not teach kindness. For if other persons are merely the objects of one’s unbridled will, no kindness will be shown except by accident or cold calculation.

The rebel, the person with "an attitude," has been glorified in movies and television for years. More, the Constitution and laws of the country have been perverted by the special protections that have been carved out for anyone who does as he pleases with no regard for the rights of others. We are enjoined by elites to be kind to such obnoxious persons rather than expecting them to be kind to us.

The massive government programs that take the responsibility of caring for the needy from families, friends and neighborhoods and assign it to impersonal bureaucracies have made kindness almost unnecessary. Kindness depends on reciprocity as well as good intentions, for people more freely come to the aid of others when they know that, if circumstances were reversed, they could count on that aid. In fact, we are coerced into being compassionate by the law. Is that kind?

There is no law against kindness or the other virtues, but we are living on the edge, so to speak, pushing matters to such an extreme that, as Alfie was inclined to believe in the popular song of that name, "only fools are kind" and "it is wise to be cruel."

The meaning of American independence

The national holiday we celebrate today is more often referred to as the Fourth of July than Independence Day, but at least that makes clear what date we are marking. We should, however, commemorate the historical event and all that it symbolizes, for the common world calendar ensures that the whole world has a July 4th just we like do. American independence has transcendent constitutional significance. No other nation in the world before 1776 had ever established (constituted) itself in the world on the basis of political principles which are true for all times and places. The most famous part of the Declaration of Independence is "all men are created equal," rather than merely all Americans, or all whites or even all males.

Cynics are fond of ridiculing the language of the Declaration because they think they really know that its authors didn’t mean to include everybody. After all, the pre-revolutionary institution of slavery was not immediately abolished, women were not generally regarded as equal in rights to men, and the vote was not even extended to all males. So it was all a pretense, right?

Wrong. Northern states prohibited slavery by the time the Constitution was ratified, women had the right to vote in several states, north and south, and the voting franchise was extended to most white males within a generation or two.

Of course, we had no power to "secure these rights" anywhere else but on our own soil, and that was hard enough, as the Civil War and the long struggle for civil rights attest. But the meaning of independence, in the first place, is that the American people, through their chosen representatives, were free to throw off ancient shackles as soon as possible, however much they might disagree about the timing or even the wisdom of that welcome change.

In other words, no European nation, however powerful or influential, could impede the progress of the American people toward their fullest security for equality and liberty. America would long remain the only country so free, as Europeans underwent a cycle of violent revolutions and even world wars before that greatest of all battles was won. And the rest of the world took even longer, with a decidedly mixed record of success.

For much of our history we have been a beacon to other nations and peoples, drawing millions to our shores and inspiring revolutions abroad. An almost inevitable consequence of the influence was that the growing power of the United States has spared the world some of its greatest evils.

Depending on their agenda or what part of the Constitution they are talking about, both liberals and conservatives like to argue that the American government is severely restricted in its power and authority in order to ensure our freedoms against infringement. But they fail to understand what Alexander Hamilton, for example, understood, which was that "the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; [and] that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated . . . "

The most fundamental obligations of the government of the United States are to "provide for the common defense" and "promote the general welfare." In the midst of revolution without a national government, the Continental Congress had to find a way to fulfill these obligations, and barely succeeded. The object of the Constitution was not to give us a weak government but rather a powerful one.

Living in a world of monarchical governments, hostile Indian tribes and fierce pirates, the government needed to be, in Hamilton’s words, "energetic," not lethargic. The world is a dangerous place always, the only difference at any time being the nature and scope of the dangers. Had the national government not possessed the requisite power, the authority of the Union would not have been upheld against secession.

A united America is a boon to the world. Consider if our nation had not been united under one energetic government when in 1916 German submarines began to sink our ships and patrol our Atlantic and Gulf coastlines, not to mention block our shipping lines overseas. Only a strong American government could have kept the Gulf of Mexico from becoming a German lake.

More ominously still, consider the horrendous consequences if we had not had the means to keep Great Britain in the war against Nazi Germany until such time as the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and brought us into a two-front war. Our military, industrial and financial power was critical.

In both world wars, American power was decisive. In the earlier conflict, Germany defeated Czarist Russia at about the same time as America entered the war on the side of the Allies.  Absent American intervention, how does the thought of a Prussian dictatorship all over Europe strike you?

In the later war, an even more tyrannical German regime left unchecked would have held sway all over Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and perhaps farther, doubtless putting an end to liberty for decades, if not centuries.

The superpower status of the United States kept most of the world safe from Soviet domination and ultimately proved too much for that evil empire to survive its own inherent weakness and inferiority. Today our government is the primary check on the world's despots and their blood brothers, the Islamist fanatics plotting against our freedom.

In sum, American independence means that we Americans alone decide how we are to be governed, and our formidable power has blocked or ended the rule of overbearing empires. This great good we celebrate today is a blessing for all mankind.