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As Long as We Remember...

October 5, 2009

It’s “The Message,” Stupid

Steven R. Berryman

Freedom of speech may be relegated to the past, if the voices of our Founding Fathers are not re-remembered, and quickly. Some attempts to exercise our First, and most valuable amendment to the Constitution, upon examination, are really attacks on the message itself.


But just what are we protecting when we establish value for “Freedom of Speech,” and who gets to use it?


Is it a conditional right, based upon having the correct message, and just who or what entity “owns” the rights of exercise?


Does the sitting government of The City of Frederick enjoy the freedom to speak out against our right to petition, for example, as in the case of the developer-funded letter mailed to all city residents over the recent annexation issues?


Not only did the mayor and four aldermen express a position on behalf of the proposed annexations just north of the city along Route 15, they put out an expressed opinion that a petition to go to referendum on the issue – assuring direct citizen involvement – not be signed. And this on City of Frederick letterhead with seal!


So, do cities get a voice?


How about corporations?


The Supreme Court of the United States is about to hear just such a case that could potentially agree that, although funded disproportionately more than individual citizens, American corporations could express opinions, and get protection thereof.


The President of the United States has the largest voice, of course, speaking as both the office holder and the citizen; he has the “bully pulpit.”


Precisely how the president chooses to exercise his Freedom of Speech is the issue in this case; for instance, should he speak to America on exactly how he plans to solve the Afghanistan quagmire and solicit allies, or is it best to instead lend voice to the priority of the prestigious Olympic Games for Chicago?


How’d that work out?


Columnists that are able to build reliable audiences have a larger voice than do discreet citizens, with much amplification and repeating then possible.


So…in the case of the corporations and columnists, having more power to get the voice and positions out and sway others, is there a risk to overwhelming the power of the individual?


Not when the individual retains the power to organize, in an unfettered way. Grass-roots groups go back to the very beginnings of our country. Collectively “We the People” still retain the right “to peaceably assemble,” also in the First Amendment.


The press can interfere with the speaking ability of groups when they disagree. While our column writers are notably partisan in slant and view, this is not a welcome attribute to our core of reporting journalists. The media-bias can be passively interjected simply by choosing one source over another in crowd counting, or by selecting just the right look for that man-in-the-street interview: Grab the Harley guy in a sea of business-dressed folks!


Do the grass-roots groups get a collective voice worthy of protection under the Constitution? And what if they attempt to change policy, or the course of political events?


It will be truly stimulating and a most modern exercise in civics to see our strict-Constitutionalist group utilize a newly found voice to impact the course of our great nation. Their position will land between the aisles…


During our present Great Recession period, both Democrats and Republicans are easily reeling around in search of identity, with the political center abandoning both to become independent or unaffiliated.


Some Democrats have stopped holding their president to any accountability and wish to recall their votes, especially with any fiscal accountability now lost to the sell-out on healthcare reform. Fixing the economy first would have enabled many to purchase their own health insurance, for example, instead of simply handing it out for free in the current legislation.


Some Republicans have stopped believing theirs is the party of fiscal accountability and conservative values; between the expense of a war without allies, and the prescription drug plan, George Bush’s example served to allow an easy opening to a radically predisposed Barack Obama, in an election where almost any Democrat could have won, and John McCain proved that he was a poor choice.


Enter our own local “We Surround Them – Frederick” (WST) grass-roots group, now a movement with hundreds of followers, soon ready with an action plan.


Leaders at all levels of government, and in a most bi-partisan way, will be consulted about their relationship with the original constitutional principles, this, in a most “game-changing” way.


We will take the full measure of our candidates and elected officials dedicated toward the founding documents they have sworn to uphold.


Under our current system, in theory, “providing for the common defense” would be permissible, as it was intended. Funding and functions here would be clearly within scope and purvey.


An issue such as “and healthcare for all” should be off the table as it was clearly not expressly intended or enumerated. In this case, we are now stuck in entirely the wrong conversation by discussing details of a plan to be included, instead of the real issue, which is “should we even be having this permissive conversation at all?”


Are groups free to express and impress through their collected voice the desire to inject accountability directly upon our elected politicians? An examination of our current crises surely agrees. Any moral compass in governance has been replaced by a web of special interests and lobbyists. Some of the forces involved perpetuate through a money stream from corporations, voting their freedoms with dollars.


But if accountable politicians’ voting records were examined with the Constitution as yardstick, ignoring massive loopholes later added in the course of expediency by progressives, then…we could take our country back…


This with an accountable government beholden to the people, again.


This assumes, of course, that these powerful written concepts – recovered from our past – and promoted by the citizens forming We Surround Then are allowed to retain their original voice and freedom of speech in an era of partisan attack by those seeking to retain the status quo.


We shall see who mans-up to their originally intended promise in office, and scrutinize those who have forgotten. Will it be the message that gets attacked, or the messenger?


Getting back to our roots is surely the obvious solution to many problems.



[In full disclosure, the author serves in an advisory capacity with the citizens group We Surround Them – Frederick]


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