We the People
There’s something I don’t get about libertarians and conservatives, and pretty much everyone who’s ever expressed antipathy towards the government.
My confusion comes from reading the US Constitution. As it was originally written, that is – there’s something immediately striking about it when you see the version the founding fathers penned rather than a mere transcription of the text. Here, look for yourself:
Do you notice the same thing I do?
Here’s a closer view:
Those first three words are written big. Really big. “We the People”. It’s impressive enough that they started the document with those three words, but they went so far as to make them the biggest, most emphatic words in the whole document. The effect is to make it absolutely, undeniably, and incontrovertibly clear that ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently described it.
According to this document, the people are the highest authority in the land. Our government derives its power only from the people and no one but the people. The US government governs only by the consent of the governed, according to the rule of law, as proscribed in the document above.
Simply, in the United States America, the government indistinguishable and inseparable from We the People.
Now let me offer a few choice quotes from the late of Ronald Reagan, which express the world view that so endeared him to conservatives:
- “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.”
- “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
- “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
- “People don’t start wars, governments do.”
Of course, Ronald Reagan didn’t take such a dim view of the government when it came to using it to force school prayer on everyone. And he had no problem quoting “we the people” as I did above – when it suited him anyway. Which makes him somewhat of a hypocrite, but I digress. It’s the attitude above that became emblematic of the (stated) conservative worldview and represents the government-is-my-enemy attitude whose popularity persists to this day. And certainly, there are no shortage of Americans whose attitude is both more extreme and more consistently anti-government than the Gipper’s. For example, this one caught my attention on Reddit recently:
Government is a ravenous, drooling beast. For the protection of all citizens, it must be reigned and caged.
I have to scratch my head when I see statements like this though. Because, as the founding fathers went to such painstaking lengths to make clear, the government is the same as We the People. So everyone who expresses such antipathy towards “the government”, as many of the more vocal libertarians and some factions of the right wing do – aren’t they really expressing hatred of the American people? (And themselves, being Americans as they are?)
We do live in an imperfect society, and I myself am highly critical of many public and elected officials, and the actions taken by my government and my behalf. But blaming “the government” is no more than laying the blame on an imaginary scapegoat in order to shirk responsibility for it. As much as I despise Bush and cringe at his every action – I can’t escape the fact that the ultimate blame lies with the people, including myself. Because We the People are ultimately in charge. We ultimately choose the government. We ultimately choose whether to hold it accountable. We – Americans – are responsible for the Iraq war, and everything else Bush has done. We’re responsible for the cronyism and corruption that’s so endemic in our system. It’s not “the government” that’s failed, “the government” doing evil, or “the government” that’s corrupted by special interests. It’s the people that fail, that do evil, that get corrupted – if not by deliberately pursuing these ends, then by allowing them to happen.
And before you go blaming campaign finance or corporate money or nepotism or anything else along those lines – it’s We the People who have a responsibility to stay informed and be vigilant, and We the People who abdicate that responsibility when we pay credence to Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, or campaign commercials. All the media can do is put Paris Hilton in front of us in place of real news – it’s We the People that decide to watch.
We the People are the government. It’s not some separate thing that can be feared or hated or fought against. Because if you do, you’re fearing and hating and tearing down the people themselves.