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
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
The Massachusetts Legislature has tolerated Proposition 2½, 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
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
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.