It is easy to become alarmed by the growing number of intrusions on our freedom; it is harder to understand where solutions lie. Many of us believe that the solution is a political one—find and then elect a politician who promises to strengthen the freedoms we value. As we do so, we often miss the essential point—our own freedom can only be guaranteed as we work to guarantee the freedom of others.
For example, those who drink and sell raw milk have found their freedom to do so trampled upon by local, state, and federal governments. AT&T is not free to merge with T-Mobile. Raw milk advocates may believe that their freedom has nothing to do with the freedom of a big corporation to utilize their capital assets, and AT&T executives may believe that their interests have nothing to do with raw milk advocates. We may not see the connection between these examples and our own freedom, but in essence, the connection is there. Believing a government that tramples on the rights of one group can be trusted to ensure the rights of another group is absurd.
Consider the detention of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul this week. Paul was traveling back to Washington when he set off an airport screening device. Paul refused a pat down and offered to go through the screening device again. The TSA refused and detained Paul for about an hour and a half.
The blow-by-blow account of the Paul incident was not as important as the reaction of the American public afterwards. In newspaper forums, Americans ridiculed Rand Paul; to be sure, others shared but did not display contempt for him.
Consider these comments by New York Times readers:
The effort of the Paul nut-jobs to undermine the TSA could put us all at risk.
In Paul’s Libertarian world you would never need to worry about airport pat-downs because you could not afford to leave the Monsanto collective at which you toiled 16 hours for goulash.
One New York Times reader, appalled by the abuse heaped at Paul wrote, “Aldous Huxley was right. The powers that be can get people to actually LOVE their servitude. Somebody speaks out against increasing government intrusion, and the masses just poke fun at him?”
And then there are those comments that reveal exactly why our freedoms are eroding. Consider this Times reader who apparently believes he has no rights other than what government grants him: “If TSA wants me to strip naked in the center of the airport fine by me… Most importantly flying is not a right (Constitutional or otherwise), it is a privilege and presently that privilege occasionally involves some guy or gal running his or her hand up your thigh or around your waist line.”
Would this commenter be appalled if freedoms he values were threatened? Sadly, he has no understanding that only by defending the rights of others does he get to enjoy his rights.
It should be clear why that is the case. Either government grants us rights or rights are inherent in each of us. If the latter is the case, the role of government is to protect and not to grant those rights. The understanding that government protects rather than grants rights is at the core the revolutionary basis of this country.
If government grants us rights, those rights by definition are continually insecure. Should we be surprised that the TSA is now claiming to have the authority to set up checkpoints at railroad and bus stations? Should we be surprised if at a future date pedestrians are stopped and asked to show their papers?
If the New York Times commenter is asked for his papers on Madison Avenue, will he then claim that walking is a right and not a privilege? Probably, but it will be too late. The heavy lifting to obtain acquiescence to violate our rights would have already been done by individuals such as himself. If the newspaper forums are any judge, many people believe it is okay to violate the rights of those with whom they disagree.
Or consider those on the “right”, such as Newt Gingrich, who apparently hold very similar beliefs as those who read the New York Times. In 1996 Gingrich supported (and recently defended) legislation that would condemn “anyone coming home to the U.S. and caught carrying enough marijuana (2 oz.) to distributed… to life imprisonment with no parole — or if caught twice, … to death.”
Do you see the connection? Gingrich believes that government grants us the privilege of what we do with our body—be it ingesting raw milk or marijuana—and the Times reader believes that government grants us privileges such as flying. Both believe that our rights begin with the dictates of politicians.
Until both “conservatives” and “liberals” see that their rights are only as strong as their defense of the rights of others, year-by-year, our freedoms will weaken. If this trend continues, the terrible government that, no doubt, will come our way will be exactly the government we deserve.