Saturday, October 04, 2008

Essence of freedom

When I read my cousin Ellen's email a few days ago and formulated my reasons for being wary of Sarah Palin I realized that I had made a common mistake. I had fallen in with the herd and forgotten the actual meaning of freedom. I also realized that my dislike of Palin is more about what her beliefs say about her and her ability to reason intelligently than anything else.

I don't oppose teaching creationism in the schools as long as evolution is taught as well. That may shock some people, but it shouldn't, especially if you know me. It goes to the heart of what freedom really means. How can anyone judge the arguments if one of the major points of the discussion is missing? How can anyone judge the validity of creationism versus evolution without seeing them side by side with all the facts and figures, theories and conjecture? You can't. No one can.

What I find so frightening about Sarah Palin is that she seems like an intelligent woman, except when you get to the subject of her religion and religious beliefs. I have no problem with people believing whatever they want and worshiping or not worshiping whatever gods they choose. I do have a problem when religion overrides common sense and empirical scientific data. Thinking like Sarah Palin's is what made Leonardo da Vinci hide his work and research and made Galileo recant his statements about the earth being round and not flat. Thinking like Sarah Palin's, and anyone who allows religion to dictate science, is what has killed more people and caused more deaths than anything else, including greed and rampant testosterone poisoning.

Freedom is about being able to say what you think and believe what you will without having to hide for fear of censure or death, and that holds true for every American, except those who choose public office. Elected officials represent the entire population of their constituency and not just those who agree with them. Elected officials should be and must be blind and deaf to anything but the welfare and protection of all the people they govern. Nowhere is this more important than in the offices of President and Vice-President. As a private citizen you may believe what you wish and speak your mind without fear of censure or punishment. Publicly, you are neutral, the voice of all the people, and especially the voice of those whose beliefs are in opposition or different than yours. This is the essence of what Jefferson meant when he wrote about the separation of church and state.

It's not about whether or not to allow prayer in schools or religious mottos on public buildings as long as it does not exclude any American. The people who built this country believed in Judeo-Christian religions. That is no longer true. While our forefathers and the people who were present at the birth of these United States believed in one god we live in a country where people believe in many gods and no god among those who still hold to Judeo-Christian beliefs.

President Bush has made a lot of mistakes, but he has also done a lot of good. His biggest mistake was making decisions based on his religious beliefs, beliefs that exclude nearly half of the population. This cannot be allowed to continue.

When any elected official bases his decisions on his personal beliefs and needs he damages the whole country and breaks faith with the people who ignored their own beliefs to vote him into office. A politician needs to be a wo/man of the people first and an individual last. The President and Vice-President speak for the entire country and not just those who believe the same way and to do anything else is self-serving and will bring this country down because only tyrants and dictators consider their own beliefs and needs before the people's.

It is difficult not to consider one's own feelings in a position of power when it seems as though the people have put their faith in you, the person. That is what makes politicians rip at each other's personal beliefs and drag each other through the mud. That's not what elections were meant to be. Yes, it's about popularity in a sense, but it should be about a person's ability to put their own needs and concerns to the side and do what is best for all concerned. What elections have devolved into is a continuous round of "Don't do as I do; do as I say." We are supposed to ignore the man behind the curtain pulling the strings and be awed by the spectacle in front of us.

It is the rare politician who puts his beliefs on hold and acts in the best interests of the people who elected him -- and those who didn't elect him. That's the problem. Politicians forget the very basic tenets of freedom, to govern in a way that protects all the people, most especially those who were in opposition, and yet that is what elected officials are supposed to do.

We have seen too much personal animosity and exclusion based on personal beliefs in the politicians who are currently in office and among those who wish to be elected. That has to change. I don't mean saying the words without understanding the meaning or promising change without a definite plan of what and how to change, but change at the very roots of how things are run. It's time to remember (if you ever knew) what freedom is all about and what it really means. Freedom is easy to say but a hard concept to put into action because we are human and we think of ourselves first. It's called the survival instinct. Freedom is a hard mark to hit, especially when you don't know what it really is.

When I interviewed Benson Wolman many years ago, he taught me the true meaning of freedom. Benson Wolman was a Jew and a lawyer who faced the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court to defend the rights of the members of the Ku Klux Klan to raise a cross on the Ohio Statehouse lawn. When I asked him how a Jew could defend people who would eradicate him and his people from the face of the earth if they could he told me that his rabbi taught him the true meaning of freedom. Freedom means not only speaking and writing and believing as you choose but defending the freedom of people who chose to believe something else even if that something else was dangerous to your very existence. Benson Wolman was the very essence of freedom and freedom few understand and even fewer practice, as we have seen from the current candidates for President.

As much as it angers us to hear Rev. Wright damn America and spew filth from the pulpit, it is his right to do so. It is Michelle Obama's right to be ashamed to be an American and to be a bigoted racist who sees white people as the enemy. It is Barack Obama's right to go to Rev. Wright's church and sit in a pew and nod his head when Rev. Wright vent his spleen and damn America and all white Americans without apology or explanation. It is not, however, Obama's right to censure and demand and get punishment for people who oppose him as he has done in several states throughout the country. If someone chooses to wear a button or hat or sash or shirt or put a sign in their yard that makes fun of Obama or publicly states they are against him being elected president, Barack Obama has no right to complain or to deny them their right to speak. It may hurt him personally and offend him, but as a candidate for the highest office in the land he must be blind. The same goes for Sarah Palin and John McCain.

I don't care what they do in their private lives as long as it does not hurt or impact the rest of the country. A healthy America is an America where people can voice their opposition, complaints and personal beliefs without fear or censure or punishment. A healthy America is one where the President and Vice-President act for the good of all Americans and not those who voted for them and believe as they do. A healthy America is one where elected officials work for the common good and not to line their own pockets or get rich from the hard work and sacrifice of the rest of the country. A healthy America is one where elected officials at all levels are blind and deaf, instruments of the people who speak for us all.

This is not a perfect world, but we are far from where we should be over 200 years from our beginnings. How can we bring freedom and the rights of all people to the rest of the world if we cannot get it right in our own back yard?

Vote as your conscience dictates but take a closer look at the man behind the curtain pulling the levers and strings to manipulate the spectacle in front of your eyes. Can we really afford another President who cannot understand the basic tenets of freedom for everyone, even for those who oppose him? Can we expect such a person to stand for us all when he can't even face the dissenting public during a campaign? I know we can't.

The candidates look on running for office like it's a popularity contest. It is and it isn't. It's more than that. It's about proving to the people -- all the people -- that you have their best interests at heart and will put aside personal agendas and animosities to do what's best for every single solitary American without regard for personal beliefs. It's about the greater good. It's about putting the people and this country first. If a candidate cannot put aside his or her ego and put the country first, then s/he has no business running for office.

The way I see it, that leaves only one choice, the candidate with a proven track record of putting the needs of the many before the needs of the one or the needs of one group first.

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