Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Republican Virtue

Catchy title eh? Well, it's not an oxymoron, so you can keep breathing and stop laughing.
That's "republican," with a small "r".

Now the quote: "...it is esay to see that when republican virtue fails, slavery ensues." Tom Paine - Common Sense

I think in the situation here in America, we are losing our republican virtue. First let's define what that means and then I'll share how I see it.

In Paines discourse, he is laying out the problems of monarchy and heriditarty succession. In the English system of government, along with it's Constitution, there is a republican aspect, in that the body politic have the opportunity to choose from among them a House of Commons. Albeit they had that privelege, the crown still had the authority, but it is here he make's the point that where the virtue of choosing fails, the result is slavery. A look at the dictionary term is no different. It states that the supreme power (the virtue) is in the hands of the people in the act of choosing. Yet your guffaw there points out one of the problems.

So having defined what is meant by republican virtue, having the effective power to choose, we can now examine two of the current difficulties I see in relation to that privelege and responsibility.

One is the belief that we have the power. The situations in Florida in 2000, and the Ohio in 2004 tell us that we have this power. How so you ask? Because certain people need and want so desperately to be in power, they have to cheat the power. Elections aren't stolen by people who really believe they represent the common good. They are stolen by those who know they don't, and they have to cripple the power that will prevent them from doing what they want. Hence we had two elections mired in fraud. However, we still have that power. And we can exercise that power by demanding from our representatives that our elections are auditable. In other words, a verifiable paper trail. A receit if you will in my hand that confirms who I voted for. We can also write letters to the editors, and talk about this with our friends.
Let me here segue to the next problem: ignorance. The segue would be the ignorance involved around how voters were allowed to be given machines that didn't verify in the first place. How Diebold, who contributed to the Bush campaign, promised the election to Bush. In both elections, the rights of voters were trampled, and there has been no outcry to speak of. Maybe it's a quiet grassroots thing, and that's good. But the ease with which Judge Roberts became Chief Justice when he was himself involved in the Florida 2000 election, indicates to me that we aren't raising our voices high enough. To emphasize this point, I recall hearing Thom Hartman on the radio here in the Seattle area, and he had on Senator Cantwell from Washington. When asked about not only a picture showing John Bolton, some Delay aides, and in the background, Judge Roberts, stopping the Florida recount, but the revelation that Roberts counseled Jeb Bush on how to proceed in stopping the recount, she knew none of that. I was stunned. A DJ knew more than the legislator who votes to nominate these people. Made me wonder about the staffs of these representatives.

Then further, what level of ignorance do we have about our own founding documents? Just knowing Jefferson and Madison's feelings about church/state separation should be enough to make us realize that Bushs pick to replace O'Conner on the Supreme Court, and his recently stated reason for doing so are enough to disqualify both of Bush and Meiers. How many of us know where the inscription on the Jefferson Memorial came from, and what the tyranny he spoke of was?
Mind you, I'm no historian of old with a degree in poli sci. (Stating the obvious aren't I?) Not too many years ago I was one of the ignorant. And these heated political battles are nothing new. But I finally decided that I wasn't going to be railroaded any longer just because I was in the dark. And when my Senator voted to confirm Roberts, I told her in no uncertain terms what I thought about that ill-informed decision. As you pretty well have guessed, I am reading the writings of those who shaped our country and it's form of government. And I'm loving it. Because believe it or not, we actaully want different viewpoints. And we need to listen to them, if for no other reason to be able to know where they are not representaive of the common good, and why.
We have the power. The current articles in the NY Times, as well as TruthOut, show us that GOP candidates are unwilling to run. Those considered by the White House for the court opted not to be involved. Their claim was that they thought the system was vicious, but I don't necessarily trust that given explanation. I think it's as much to do with not wanting to be associated with a visibly corrupt sinking ship. It shows me they are very afraid of that power we still possess.

And we have a lot of sources of information. When asked, I usually say we should have a knowledge of The Declaration of Independence (note the similarities of the listed grievances against the English crown to the actions of Bush), The Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the poem on the Statue of Liberty, the original Pledge of Allegiance, and for those who are still inquisitive, the writings of Tom Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Still hungry? Then read some of the history of those days. On top of that, know how to surf around the Library of Congress web site, and particularly the THOMAS link which keeps record of all the bills and actions of the representatives.

It may sound like a lot. But what is the result if we don't?



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