Las Vegas Sun

October 25, 2014

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WHERE I STAND:

Reflecting on our obligation as citizens

We owe it to our nation’s founders to be informed voters

Today we should declare our independence — from the mediocrity of political thought.

In 1776, a group of brave and forward-thinking men gave to the world the Declaration of Independence. In it they proclaimed that there comes a time in the course of human events when it becomes necessary “for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.” Those were revolutionary words and their impact was fully known to that small group of colonists who understood the price that would be paid for the “separation.”

They set forth the reasons for telling the king of England and his colonial governors to take a hike and included among them certain truths that were self-evident: “that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Following that declaration, of course, a great war on and off the battlefield ensued, and the result is a history with which most of us are familiar. It has been a 234-year experiment in democracy or, as some would describe it, the messiness of people trying to govern themselves through consensus and compromise. And doing it in the most civil way possible.

By and large, the American people have succeeded in holding up the United States as the beacon of democracy in its quest to perfect the democratic ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At the very least we are better than whatever other form of government is second.

That is what Americans are celebrating today. We are also celebrating the conscientiousness, commitment and compromise that took place among that most learned and intelligent group that came together to give our forefathers reason for splitting with Mother England. For certain there were bitter disagreements about what to write, how to write it and why it should be written at all. For every person who believed we had to break free from England, there were just as many who believed that King George — with all his taxing powers and oppression — was the colonists’ answer to sliced bread.

People had their opinions and they were given full opportunity to discuss and debate them — however loudly and raucously that was done. There was often bitter disagreement but at no time was there dispute about the facts that led to their respective beliefs. That was the beauty of simpler times, when there was no Internet nor advertising campaigns. Whatever efforts there were to “fool all of the people all of the time” were easily thwarted by those learned men who could easily agree that facts were facts and the rest was, well, just what people thought about those facts.

We have come a long way since 1776. In many respects we have progressed as a nation the way the Founding Fathers probably envisioned. But I suspect that George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson — and the rest of the people who met under such adverse conditions to form this great democracy — could never have envisioned a country in which major political decisions of the day were influenced and often decided by advertising slogans and false facts, rather than the simple concepts of reality and truth.

It is clear that our Founding Fathers gave us our democracy, but it is also clear that they didn’t require us to be intelligent and knowledgeable enough to protect it. Perhaps it was an oversight. Or, perhaps, they never considered that we would squander such an opportunity by choosing to remain ignorant of the facts and oblivious to the truth. They fought too hard and risked too much to ever contemplate that one day a United States of America would operate in such a foolish manner.

But, alas, we have reached that point.

If you will forgive me a current events example, please refer to the Sharron Angle interview on Jon Ralston’s “Face to Face” program last Tuesday. I know that those who like Sharron think she did great no matter what the facts are and, conversely, those who don’t like her think she did poorly. I think something very different.

I think the Republican Party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate from Nevada did a great disservice to our democracy because she epitomized the worst of a decades-long approach to politics that threatens the very foundation of our democracy.

Moving people and their passions to the voting booth every two or four or six years is not only a sacred duty but it is a requirement for good citizenship. It is a responsibility that each of us owes to this democracy, and it is an obligation that we each should take seriously.

We have, however, abdicated our role as voters — thoughtful, considerate and knowledgeable people expressing our political opinions — by allowing ourselves to fall prey to the half-truths, lies and distortions of facts that have come to represent modern-day political discourse. But it is not entirely our fault.

Americans are notoriously lazy when it comes to doing our homework. We prefer that others tell us what to do, how to think and how to act. It has taken us a long time to get that way because we used to pride ourselves on our work ethic, our intellect and our knowledge of national and world events. At some point we just stopped teaching ourselves these values and opted for something much easier.

Let the television tell us how to think, let the spinmeisters tell us what to believe and let the candidates shape our belief systems in ways once thought impossible, except by people like P.T. Barnum!

All of this culminated in Angle’s appearance on “Face to Face.” Yes, for the most part she was a good candidate if the criteria are doing and saying what your handlers taught you in those all-night cram sessions. But if the criteria for a good candidacy are telling the people the truth and trusting them to handle it — sounds like a good movie line — then she failed and those who bought what she was selling failed, too.

The Constitution and those who wrote it insisted that government stay out of religion. They came up with the idea of separation of church and state. Sharron Angle said otherwise, she said that was not true, and I guarantee you some people believed her.

Sharron Angle said that Yucca Mountain should be opened because high-level nuclear accidents — the kind that would kill Las Vegas — would not happen. Just as the BP disaster in the Gulf could never happen and just as every other accident that couldn’t happen, happens. If she says it loud enough and long enough, people will believe her even when the reality says just the opposite.

And Sharron Angle said that the job of a U.S. senator representing Nevada does not include bringing as many jobs and as much good fortune to this state as he or she possibly can. And then she proceeded to blame Harry Reid for our high unemployment and the overall economic stress we are in. And, yes, there are people who will buy into that illogical and factually incorrect train of thought.

I could go on but the point should be clear. As we celebrate the Declaration of Independence and the sacrifice our forefathers made for this great democracy, we have an obligation not to degrade their hard work and great gift to us by acting in a manner not befitting a citizen of this country. We must not settle for the mediocrity of political thought and the folly of our actions based thereon.

If we want to honor the men who declared our independence — and not dishonor ourselves — we should resolve to strive for excellence in what we do, intelligence in what we know and responsibility in what and how we think.

We can be the good and responsible citizens our forefathers envisioned.

Brian Greenspun is editor of theLas Vegas Sun.