Written by John Whitehead
Mere days after President Bush signed into law an $810 billion bailout bill aimed at rescuing the Wall Street financiers, one of the recipients, American International Group Inc., threw a $440,000 bash for its executives at a swanky resort, complete with spa treatments, banquets and golf outings.
At the same time that AIG execs were celebrating lavishly, indirectly at taxpayer expense, nearly 12 million American taxpayers, who owed more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, were in danger of foreclosure.
As if it weren't bad enough that a fiscally irresponsible corporate America is going to be bailed out at taxpayer expense, Congress included more than $100 billion in pork barrel projects in the bill. Nothing short of congressional bribes, these so-called inducements range from an exemption from excise tax for wooden arrows designed for use by children and tax write-offs for motorsports racing track facility owners to tax rebates on rum imported from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as imported wool.
This is not relief, it is economic slavery. It has become increasingly clear that the greatest threat to our freedoms--and our bank accounts--does not lurk outside our borders. Rather, it prowls among us, in the form of a government of wolves that is running wild and riding roughshod over our freedoms.
There was a time when such a blatant disregard for the burden being laid upon the American taxpayer would have elicited howls of outrage, protest marches and perhaps even outright rebellion. Today, however, many Americans understandably feel helpless to do anything about their plight. After all, despite the fact that calls and emails to congressional offices were overwhelmingly against the $810 billion pork-laden bailout, the legislation passed anyway.
Yet consider this: at its core, the quest for the American dream is about gaining sovereignty over one's life and property. Without it, there can be no freedom. While we have become accustomed to equating property with land ownership, the term is much more fundamental and personal. It refers to a kind of sovereignty over one's life and possessions--especially one's money. Questions about who has ultimate control over our money, how much of it can be claimed by government and how it gets spent go to the heart of the battle over property rights.
Governments generate no wealth on their own. Any resources that they have at their disposal have been appropriated from the original producers of that wealth, the citizens. This fundamental truth has largely been forgotten over the years. Yet the government's respect for and treatment of the property of its citizens often reflects its attitude regarding its citizens' rights as a whole. Conversely, a government that doesn't respect the rights of its citizens will have even less regard for their property--be it land, money or personhood.
With the Wall Street bailout, the President and Congress simply disregarded the clear will of the people. And while secret agreements were obviously made and backroom bargains struck, the Constitution and our rights were not even given a second thought.
However, those who wrote the Constitution drafted our founding document with the intention of ensuring that the power of government remained with the people. The Framers wanted citizens to know what the government is doing and how it spends taxpayer funds. And if the elected officials aren't doing their jobs or the people disagreed with their performance, the Framers empowered the people to unseat their representatives. Without these safeguards, there is no representative government.
Since the country's inception, America has been synonymous with the concept that there are certain individual rights and freedoms that no one, not even government agents, can violate. As the Declaration of Independence boldly proclaims: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
These were revolutionary ideas in an age of kings and serfdoms, and they served as a springboard for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These rights were considered absolute and so precious that no government can violate them. And the early American colonists believed these principles were not only worth fighting for, they were worth dying for.
One of these was the right of the people to change or do away with a government that attempts to undermine their rights. As the Declaration concludes, "whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
Governments are brought into being to protect our rights. When they systematically violate them, the people have a right--nay, a duty--to resist. This was the true spirit of 1776 that moved the American colonists to start a revolution against a government that was violating their rights. This willingness to stand and fight against corrupt government was what it meant to be an American in our nation's early years. And if we truly want to be Americans today, it will mean practicing every form of nonviolent resistance available to us as citizens--including picketing, mass protests, sit-ins, boycotts and so on.
It will certainly take more than voting for or against a particular politician. Thomas Jefferson was right: "What country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance?"
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