Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 4, 1776

During the 1950s, at the height of the McCarthy era, my father worked for Atomic Energy Commission. The AEC was created right after WWII to maintain civilian government control over the field of atomic research and development. In 1954 it entered into a partnership with some civilian companies to research the possibilities for atomic power. In the sixties it added space research to its portfolio. In the seventies the AEC was folded into the Department of Energy and has shuffled around through various subagencies since then losing responsibilities along the way. Dad left the AEC in 1968, after Nixon became president, because he was sure a Republican administration would cut the budget for pure research. He was right; in the next year most of my friends had to move away. I might have missed them, but I was one of the first to leave. My Dad found a new job in Alaska.

Dad was a cowboy from Montana. He didn't fit in well with the culture of secrecy and conformity that government employment enforced in those days. At some point in the 1950s, a co-worker brought in a petition and asked his fellow government science workers to sign it. As Dad described the petition, it read something like this:
All men are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable Rights. To secure their rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Most of his fellows denounced it as Communist propaganda and hastened to get away from the document. Dad, who knew the words and their author, signed the document. It is the introduction to the Declaration of Independence shorn of its most recognizable phrases. In the 1950s certain Americans had created such an atmosphere of fear and suspicion than most Americans would rather denounce one of our most sacred documents than endorse the concept that established our country: the right of a people to choose their government.

In 2004, the people chose that same fear when they went to the polls. The very concept of self-determination was made to appear treasonous by a self-serving few. Fear and insecurity made us fall for an evil demagoguery. We were wrong. Today, Americans are once again rejecting the demagogues who have despoiled our sacred rights. Yet as they reject the despoilers, I'm not confident that they have reclaimed those rights.

Read the Declaration of Independence. Read the Constitution. Read the Bill of Rights. Think about what they mean. They are all very short documents. It doesn't take very much time. Read a commentary on each one and read a commentary that disagrees with the first commentary.

On the fourth of July, we do not celebrate the passing of the Declaration of Independence--that was July second. On July fourth we celebrate the publication of the Declaration of Independence. That is an important difference. If we celebrated on the second of July, as John Adams predicted, we would be celebrating document and the revolution it launched. By celebrating the fourth, we are celebrating the act of a government sharing it's deepest motivations with the public. We celebrate transparency in government. We celebrate government by the people for the people.

Read the documents and compare them to the government of Bush and Cheney. They stand for secrecy and for hiding the motivations and actions of government from the people. They stand in opposition to Adams and Jefferson (not to mention Thomas Paine and a lot of other rebels). They might sand for the America that some Americans want in the future, but they stand against the America that the founders wanted in the past. They stand against my Dad and I stand with him.

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