and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
July #1

The power of 'we the people'
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, July 5, 2007

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union -- or prevent an imperfect, but pretty good, union from becoming deformed -- occasionally plant our democratic feet firmly on our American soil and make a statement.

On July 4, 1776, that statement was the Declaration of Independence: "When in the Course of human events..."

In late June 2007, the statement came in the form of telephone calls, faxes and e-mail to our elected U.S. senators in opposition to the amnesty bill for illegal immigrants. Opponents filled the role of Minutemen, responding to talk radio and the well-organized revolutionaries at NumbersUSA. This is so much better, in so many ways, than muskets and powder; but, of course, we know that it was blood on the battlefield that bought us the right to fight with our electoral power instead of guns.

It is good to remember that the blood of warriors is still being shed in the permanent battle for freedom, and that we support those warriors with our voices and our votes, as well as we can on the complicated battlefields of the 21st century. The once simple command, "Fire when you see the whites of their eyes," shouted across an open field, has become, "Keep your eyes open for skulking, cowardly terrorists" in airport terminals and crowded restaurants.

The ongoing battle is fought in venues ranging from world war to individual voices protesting every tiny erosion of our freedom. All are connected.

One woman called the Howie Carr show on WRKO last week after the Senate vote. She said that because her only child is heading for Iraq, she wept when American citizens stopped the amnesty bill. To her this meant that the America he is fighting for still exists, that people still care enough to fight for it, too, in their own way.

Then, paraphrasing President Reagan, she created the new battle cry: "Mr. Bush, put up that wall!" Howie has been promoting her slogan ever since. If you agree, pass it on.

This sort of thing means that the next domestic battle will probably be "The Fairness Doctrine," which surfaces every time a fair fight leads to a loss for liberals.

The original Fairness Doctrine, a mid-20th-century policy of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), was an attempt to ensure that coverage of a controversial issue be balanced and fair in the public broadcasting arena. By the 1980s, said arena was so large and varied that concerns about coverage abated; Fox TV and talk radio began to balance the major television networks, and soon the Internet gave everyone a chance to get any imaginable opinion publicly expressed. So in 1987, the FCC dissolved the doctrine, and attempts by Congress to revive it in the form of a law were vetoed by Presidents Reagan and G.W. Bush.

The latest attempt came after another phone-fax assault on Washington D.C. , or, that particular weekend, the five-star Greenbriar Resort in West Virginia, a semi-secret hideaway for congressmen.

In 1989, the Democratic majority, after trying to ram through a major congressional pay increase, went there for a "retreat" to weather out the storm of public protest.

Activist Chip Ford remembers that RKO's Jerry Williams connected with talk show hosts around the nation. Working together, they found out where the political leaders were hiding and shared that information with their callers, who contacted the exclusive resort. The pay raise went down; and so did the attempt by Congress to get even by bringing back the Fairness Doctrine to hurt talk radio.

Some politicians define fairness as their having all the legislative and bully-pulpit power, and "we the people" having none. At the state level, many politicians hate the initiative petition process for the same reason.

The Massachusetts Legislature has tolerated Proposition 2, which the voters passed over its original objection in 1980. Today it is just the occasional local official who rails against the voters' involvement when an override doesn't pass.

But the relationship between the elector and elected has deteriorated in recent decades, as other initiative petition laws are ignored, repealed or, in the case of the income-tax rollback, permanently "frozen." Still, activist Massachusetts voters have forced through serious drunk-driving legislation and stopped a retroactive capital gains tax and in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

The key, at all levels of government, is the stated willingness of voters to remember their outrage when next they choose their representatives. If politicians feel safe because voters are distracted or apathetic, we the people will start to lose on the smaller issues and will eventually lose on the big issues as well.

Congress eventually got its pay raise; as in Massachusetts, raises are now automatic so that voters are not involved. Amnesty for illegal immigrants is temporarily defeated, not dead. Those of us who want real immigration reform know that it is easier to kill a bad bill than to get our elected representatives to pass a good one, especially if they are feeling vindictive.

Still, as we celebrate the birthday of our country, it's good to be able to also celebrate some recent validations of the American democratic spirit.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.