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Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
July 2002 #1

Independence in the balance

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem Evening News
Monday, July 1, 2002

So what is the proper name for this week's holiday? Is it the 4th of July or Independence Day?

I used to vote for the former. "Independence Day" is prettier and meaningful, but it seems necessary to use the date so we don't find ourselves with yet another three-day weekend and plans to "go somewhere and have a good time" while we forget whatever it is we are celebrating.

Unfortunately, many of us have forgotten the historic context anyhow and the one-day focus (though many will turn it into a four-day weekend) is on cookouts and fireworks only.

My idea of a good time this coming Thursday afternoon is to lie in the hammock and read Jeff Shaara's novel about the Revolutionary War, "Rise to Rebellion," which brings Sam and John Adams, Ben Franklin, George Washington and even British general Thomas Gage to life.

You may think I'm kidding, or maybe you're sending me a mental note: "Barbara, get a life." But it's an excellent novel so far, and I have been fascinated by this period of history since I was in grade school, wishing that someone would write stories, not just textbooks, to make all the heroes real. Now that I'm older I want to know enough to sort out the myth from the facts, and come to appreciate the Revolution for what it really was and really achieved, human frailty notwithstanding.

It's also fun, and is becoming a holiday tradition, to attend a cookout at the home of my former boss, Don Feder and his wife Andrea, where conservative and libertarian political activists gather to eat, talk, and eventually gather in a circle to read aloud the Declaration of Independence. Most of us are assigned a paragraph citing the wrongs done to the colonists by King George III. This year I hope I get the one that chastises the king for "suspending our own Legislatures," because I'm sure it will be followed by a moment in which everyone is thinking, "What's wrong with that?"

Please Queen Elizabeth, make my day and suspend the Massachusetts General Court. In return, I won't complain about a little stamp tax, because what's one more?

Another presently relevant complaint about King George III was that he was imposing taxes on us without our consent. We voters told Kings Finneran I and Birmingham I that we wanted the income tax rate rolled back and a charitable deduction; yet they are currently in the process of hiking income taxes, removing the charitable deduction, cutting the personal exemption, increasing the capital gains tax retroactive to the beginning of this year, and eating out our substance in various other ways. It's time to rise to rebellion.

But not just now. In the evening we will visit other friends at their hillside Waltham home. Unlike the ooh-aah fireworks that my cousins and I watched exploding overhead after sneaking onto and lying flat on the ground at the local golf course, the distant Boston fireworks have perspective. Our friends' house is a good place also to think about the perspective of history.

Maybe old King George wasn't so bad; perhaps we just delayed the inevitable day when government would be big enough, and close enough, to keep us subservient. The Creator may continue to endow us with certain unalienable rights, among which are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, but we will take them for granted and let them slip away.

By the way, if the court decision on the Pledge of Allegiance stands, they probably won't be able to teach the Declaration of Independence in our public schools either, mentioning the Creator as it does. And without a Creator endowing them, are there in fact unalienable rights?

Think about it. Creator or no, we have to fight for those rights every day or they disappear, so they aren't really unalienable, right?

Maybe Jefferson was writing fiction, not reporting fact. As long as Americans believed what he said, and insisted on having things his way, we made Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness happen in this part of the world.

But the times they are a'changing. The illusions of safety and security, and the reality of convenience, have encouraged us to surrender our privacy and some "minor" civil rights.

Some of us, as predicted by skeptical friends early in our history, will vote ourselves enough largess from the public till that dependence seems better than independence. This will encourage many of the rest of us, resenting the high level of taxation, to demand services in the attempt to get something back. The attitude is understandable, but of course won't work for long.

When in the course of human events -- we the people, having become our own worst enemy -- it becomes necessary for us to separate ourselves from the bonds of our own making, some of us will rise to rebellion again. Hope you will join us.

In the meantime, have a wonderful Independence Day on this 4th of July.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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