BEAM: Be Careful What You Wish For

“I just want the government out of my life.”

That has become a recurring complaint from conservative radio and TV talk show hosts.

Government does overreach, no doubt about it. And the national administration we have now does it much too often. However, it’s obvious the critics don’t remember why we have governments in the first place.

The first English settlers who came to this country realized government was essential to preserve order and protect the rights of the American people. And it took 168 years (1607-1775) to develop the system of government we have today.

Many of the local government agencies and officials we have date back to those colonial days. The settlers established counties, boroughs, juries, sheriffs, coroners and justices of the peace.

The colonists also wanted to make it clear government should be limited and civil liberties should be protected. They figured the best way to do that was to create a representative government that gave them a voice in how government does its job. And when we don’t like the way our elected officials perform, we can replace them. The country’s history shows how that works.

Oppression from King George III of England resulted in the calling of the First Continental Congress. The 56 delegates who met in Philadelphia Sept. 5, 1774, drafted a Declaration of Rights protesting what were called the Intolerable Acts that punished the colonists. Each of the colonies approved what the Congress did.

The British ignored the declaration, and the battles of Concord and Lexington were a result. What came to be known as the “shot heard round the world” was fired on April 19, 1775. The American Revolution had begun, and the Second Continental Congress convened two weeks later.

John Hancock was chosen as president and a continental army was organized. That Congress became the first government of the United States, and it was in existence for six years.

The Declaration of Independence was approved July 4, 1776, and the Articles of Confederation were the government document created in 1777. The Articles proved unworkable, so the convention that would draw up our current Constitution convened May 25, 1777. The new document was ratified by the states by 1788, and a new government was in place by 1779.

The Constitution those 55 men drew up in Independence Hall has served this country well. It was built on compromise, a word that has, surprisingly, become unacceptable to ultra-conservatives in this country.

OK, that is how we got to where we are today. So, now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. What has this 1779 federal government done for us?

The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in 1791 to guarantee the people against injustices by the national government. Some of those guarantees are the freedoms of speech, press and religion, the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty and the right to confront our accusers in court.

Our national government’s primary duty has been to defend this country in times of war. It has also established a better life for its citizens in many ways, helping most of them enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living. But there is more.

Food is inspected for our protection, even though the government sometimes fails to do an adequate job. We are educated at public expense. Our working conditions have improved because of fair labor laws. Automobiles and drivers are licensed for our safety. Roads are built and maintained by government.

Social Security helps protect older Americans economically. Government regulates utilities and means of transportation. It guarantees bank deposits. Law enforcement agencies protect us from harm. Fire departments protect our homes and other property.

The list goes on, but you get the message. And when government drops the ball, the media is there to hold it accountable.

Those of us in the news business have dedicated our profession to protecting the interests of citizens. That is why this newspaper, for example, reported on serious driving violations by a local federal judge. After the judge was first charged by city police with a minor offense, the charges were upgraded to first offense DWI.

The American Press took on illegal gambling in the 1940s and 1950s that thrived because of non-existent law enforcement. The newspaper has exposed political corruption on a number of occasions. It covered serious labor violence in the mid-1970s that helped pass a right-to-work law.

We take our responsibilities seriously. Thomas Jefferson, one of this country’s founding fathers, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States, put it this way:

“… The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them…,” Jefferson said.

We can almost guarantee that those who want the government out of their lives won’t like the alternatives.

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