America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free”. – President Andrew Shepard (Michael Douglas) in The American President
As I watch events in Michigan today I can’t help but think that some people just don’t understand how freedom and democracy are supposed to work. Both sides claim freedom as one of their basic principles, but far too many people on both sides think “freedom” means “freedom for me but not for thee”.
The issue is not whether labor unions are a good thing for the country. That’s debatable. The issue is freedom of association. Everyone should be free to join a union. No one should be required to pay dues to a union they don’t support.
The flip side of freedom is responsibility. We have the freedom to make choices. It is our responsibility to make wise choices. The freedom to choose makes us accountable for the choices we make.
But despite what the libertarians believe, we are not a bunch of independent sovereign nations. We are all citizens of a single nation. The founding document of this nation lays out what was then a radical notion as its raison d’être:
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.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
Freedom isn’t easy. Some people will use their freedom in ways we don’t like. But our freedom is not unlimited. The eternal question is how much infringement on our freedom is necessary and desirable. Some things should be prohibited, some things should be allowed, some things should be encouraged and other things should be required.
Democracy is the method by which we decide which is which. But freedom and democracy don’t always produce the outcomes we want. Stupid people get to vote for bad candidates. Good laws get voted down or are declared unconstitutional. Bad laws hang around. The other guys win way too often.
Democracy is a crazy, messed up system that’s only redeeming quality is it works better than any other system that’s ever been tried.
If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, it will protect all of you. – Larry Flynt