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Is that really necessary?

By Lady Liberty
web posted January 3, 2005

"'Necessity' is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the agument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves." William Pitt, 1783.

There is a certain member of my family -- though I suspect she's not unique to my family alone -- who is not a particularly nice person. If she bluntly tells you how terrible she thinks you look in that new sweater you love, she insists it's only because she knows how much you value honesty. If she compares you to other, more favored family members and pointedly finds you lacking (these favored members fall into and out of favor with some regularity, by the way), she does it because she wants to motivate you to greater accomplishments. If she criticizes you, it's because she loves you and wants others to love you, too (this woman actually once told me that she made a point of "taking people down a notch" so that they wouldn't "get a big head," a technique she apparently considers her generous contribution to ensuring that others stay admirably humble and thus more lovable).

Since her motivations for being not so nice are pure (at least in her own mind), she excuses herself and her behavior even as the rest of us don't. But whatever else we think about her, this woman will likely never change. She's been that way for years.

Despite being well aware of her tendency toward meanness and knowing full well that there is no pleasing her, a few of us continue to try. Every year at Christmas, we spend extra time considering a gift for her. In fact, it's become something of a challenge to see if there's anything we can possibly buy or do that will result in a thanks without some painful remark appended to it. I personally have yet to succeed, and frankly don't ever expect to do so. Even so, I find I'm disappointed in myself on an annual basis, and feeling that I've somehow failed her again (for the record, this year I got her something she specifically requested, the result of which was her hesitant, "Well, I guess I might use it someday...")

After moping a bit and feeling hurt at her lack of enthusiasm, it struck me (as it usually does sooner or later) that I have no reason to feel bad. Her inability to be appreciative, or her need to make others feel lesser so that she can feel greater, is not my fault. It is, in fact, part and parcel of who she is. Still, in the past, I've often assuaged my hurt feelings with a promise to myself that I'll do better next year. I'll pay more attention to what she says she wants; I'll read between the lines to determine what will really make her happy, and then I'll go ahead and buy that thing or do that deed.

Most people are, on average, optimistic. Despite our past experiences to the contrary, we really don't want to believe bad things of loved ones, and so we don't. We're so wounded by the betrayal of those we trust that, provided the wounds aren't too grievous, we tend to forgive and trust again. Besides, along with being optimistic, most people also tend to be decent human beings and are willing to give others in general the benefit of the doubt.

Our habit of swallowing whatever we must so as not to cause a scene -- of "going along to get along" -- often extends beyond family into other areas of our lives. That might prove to be a good thing where good friends or co-workers are concerned, but it oftentimes seems to filter into our views of politics and politicians, too. Though politicians aren't family, and most of us don't even know them well enough to recognize them on the street, we repeatedly swallow hurt and forgive betrayal. That may be because politicians, like that not-so-nice family member I mentioned, lay claim to the purest of motivations.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been getting some bad press lately as concerns hand searches of female air passengers. One Broadway actress (Patti LuPone) was quoted on an entertainment interview program as saying she'd received "a breast exam" at the hands of security officials at an airport. Other women apparently felt the same.

The TSA has since modified its searching technique slightly in that its personnel are now not to search between the breasts (the "chest perimeter," as authorities are calling it, remains fair game). Between its self-proclaimed respect for women demonstrated by halting cleavage searches, and its claims that authorities only feeling women up so as to ensure none of them have explosives stuffed into their bras, we're to understand that this randomly imposed gross physical violation of privacy is for our own good and thus eminently forgivable.

On December 7 and 8, Congress passed legislation to reform American intelligence. While inter-agency communications were in sore need of an overhaul and clearly a crucial need where the so-called War on Terrorism is concerned, the bill failed to address one of the most rudimentary terrorism prevention measures of all: the interdiction of illegal immigration. At the same time, the bill did include a de facto national ID card, something Americans have repeatedly expressed a profound distaste for having.

But we're told that border security can be addressed later (something I'm disinclined to believe since the Bush administration has already started talking up its amnesty-program-by-another-name again), and that uniformity in driver's licenses is important for showing legal residence (another bitter pill to swallow in light of efforts to give illegal aliens driver's licenses and in the alleged inclusion on these new ID cards of myriad bits and pieces of personal data having little if anything to do with citizenship). But after being mollified by promises of additional legislation and assurances of necessity, the infringements to freedom are being largely accepted by by most Americans.

Just as each of us sometimes endures a disappointing holiday or suffers from verbal barbs at the hands of a family member, we are betrayed time and again by campaign promises made prior to elections but forgotten once the votes are counted. Our freedoms are slashed and even destroyed by the cavalier actions of lawmakers. But, like that rude relative, we choose to ignore our hurt and give the politician yet another chance to make more promises he or she won't keep when the next election comes around. Perhaps the worst of all is the fact that many of us believe the promises again the second time around when, by all rights, the lessons of the past should have taught us better.

Of course, there's a big difference between our family members and our political representatives. The bottom line is that our relatives are ours. We can't change them merely because they've been bad or treat us poorly, or because they've betrayed our trust. And then there's the fact that it's frankly easier to give them a second -- and a twenty-second -- chance since we're pretty much stuck with them anyway, at least on holidays. But what excuse do we have for forgiving and forgetting where politics and politicians are concerned?

We're not stuck with our political representatives for any longer than their term of office. Surely the memory of their betrayal can last a few short years to the next election cycle! If we vow to try harder to make the next holiday a more peaceful and enjoyable one despite those who would make it otherwise, shouldn't we promise ourselves that our politicians will try harder? And that, if they don't, we'll remove them from the equation the next time we head into the voting booth?

A host of officeholders new and old are scheduled to take their oaths of office in the coming weeks. You probably can't tell your Aunt Martha to behave herself at your next family gathering, but there's no reason whatsoever you can't tell your political representatives that you expect them to toe the line. In fact, though Aunt Martha's ongoing bad behavior isn't your fault, repeated violations of trust by politicians falls directly into your lap. We bear no blame for an unpleasant relative -- we're not, unfortunately, able to choose the family into which we're born -- but we are entirely responsible for our elected officials.

The first time a politician lies to his constituency or betrays his oath is a reflection on him. The second time it happens, it's your fault for forgetting what you learned from the mistake of voting for him the first time around. This year, keep track of the good things your representative does. Even more importantly, tally the bad things as well. If your memory is shorter than an officeholder's term, keep a list. Make your first political letter of 2005 one that tells politicians you're watching -- and that you won't forget or forgive.

New Year's resolutions usually reflect a goal for personal improvement. What could be a more valuable improvement or greater blessing than the restoration of personal freedom in America? Like your Aunt Martha, you can't expect a bad politician to suddenly change into a person that truly represents your interests and can be trusted to uphold the Constitution. But unlike your family members, you do have some recourse where politics are concerned: if the politician won't change, change the politician.

Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.


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