You Should Know Better

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Norman Rockwell's "Freedom of Speech," from a 1943 issue of 'The Saturday Evening Post.' The right to take part in our government in absolute, but we must be knowledgeable about the government to know how to make our voice heard.

I was struck by a comment recently in the Douglas County Sentinel from District Attorney David McDade:

“Douglas County citizens don’t want to see this kind of crime in their community. We are going to make sure that they spend the rest of their lives making little rocks out of big rocks.”

The story dealt with four people who were denied bond based on their involvement in a recent home invasion at a mobile home park out near Lithia Springs. That’s bad and they all ought to go away for a long time because of what they did. But the thing that got me was the “Douglas County citizens” part.

See, in our federal system of government, sovereignty is shared between the state and the federal governments. What that means is that you can be a citizen of the United States, and you can be a citizen of Georgia. But counties and cities exist at the pleasure of the states, and therefore have no sovereignty. Douglas County could be dissolved if the Georgia General Assembly so chose, or could be broken into many other (though very tiny) counties (which would require amending the state constitution, which really isn’t that hard; we do it through ballot initiatives nearly every election). Heck, Louisiana doesn’t even have counties; it has parishes.

Yet, most people wouldn’t bat an eye at the D.A.’s inaccurate reference to the county’s “citizens.” And that’s part of the problem.

Now, I’m sure McDade knows that it’s a fallacy to proclaim that we’re citizens of the county he serves, and the statement is rife with “reelect me” sentiment to be sure, but the fact is, most folks don’t understand the division – and it’s a fundamental one!

And this is the problem we’re dealing with at the moment: a lack of civility, bred with a lack of civics.

Take, for instance, the recent showdown over the “debt crisis” in Washington. For one thing, it was a “crisis” the same way intentionally blowing up a mine with workers inside is a “disaster.” It was something that was fabricated; a ruse. The government wasn’t trying to raise the debt ceiling so it could get more money to spend – it was trying to raise the debt ceiling to cover the expenses it had already approved. These weren’t new obligations the government was facing, it was obligations that these same members of Congress had already said they’d make, and then made a political contest out of whether or not they would actually pay the bill.

Then, in the midst of this fighting, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the senior senator from Kentucky, proposed an idea: His party would draft and pass a bill that would not allow the debt ceiling to increase, then President Obama would veto it, thereby raising the debt ceiling and effectively absolving the GOP of any liability.

This happens all the time. But, usually it happens in those smoky back rooms we always read about. Seldom does it become a tactic openly pushed through press conferences and talk radio programs.

And this is what it’s come to. People don’t understand what the debt ceiling is, how it works or what the consequences would be for all of us were the ceiling not to be raised. Nor do people understand how underhanded Senator McConnell’s idea was, or what will happen now that Standard and Poor’s had downgraded our credit ranking.

Let me get to the heart of it: What was once a government of the people, by the people and for the people is a government now of the few, by the connected and for itself. And it has become this way because we the people quit paying attention.

We know next to nothing about our nation’s history or how our government functions on even the most elementary level, and this opens the door for, well, interpretation. As a consequence of this, there are powerful elements in our nation that are perfectly content with taking advantage of our absence of understanding (i.e., the “Tea Party”).

You’ve been hoodwinked. You’ve been had. You’ve been took. You’ve been led astray, run amok. You’ve been bamboozled. And so forth.

And this is all owing to a lack of understanding about how government works.

I implore you who are reading this to take the time to investigate how government operates. Understand the difference between a state, federal and local government, who is responsible for what, and who your elected representatives are. Know the name and political affiliation of your state senator and representative, your congressman, your two senators and your county commissioner. Know when they’re up for reelection. When there’s a town hall meeting nearby, go; there will be folks there who are in an ever-small minority who do know how the system works and know how it’s being used to play you. This doesn’t mean that you have to get involved on any level beyond casting your ballot, but at least you’ll be able to make more of an informed and educated decision.

Reclaiming our government can be different than it’s been for so many other countries that have lost control. We don’t need an Arab Spring or London Riots to enact change. All we have to do is know who our congressman is and whether or not he or she has been playing political games or representing our best interests.

Our nation’s ills are many, but if we understand those ills and understand the solutions, our ability to correct them will be endless.

Government: Understand it.

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