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The Declaration of Independence
It is interesting ponder the emotions we modern Americans traditionally feel on the Fourth of July: Pride, joy, a certain sense of tranquility that unfolds with the picnic blankets on summer nights under a fireworks displays. These are very different from the emotions coursing through people’s breasts on the original July 4 in 1776. The founding fathers weren’t joyful or tranquil. They were pissed. Fed up and angry over what? TAXES! Taxes, and a government totally out of touch with or accountable to their concerns.
The Declaration of Independence, for all its brilliant philosophical language about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is essentially an irate list of everything we hate about you – you being the British government (“For imposing taxes on us without our consent. For abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our government. Etc.) And, it is a case for when anybody sucks as much as you do – you being the British government – well, then, it is a perfectly justifiable moral imperative to “abolish” you by means history recorded at Bunker Hill, Saratoga and Yorktown.
Though I won’t go so far as to say today’s Vermonters have picked out their Indian costumes in preparation for dumping their property tax bills into Lake Champlain, I can’t help but think that this year we all might be feeling more in touch with and sympathetic to the original emotions of July 4, 1776.
In wealthy Dorset, citizens stunned by a town-wide 17 percent state property tax increase are seriously discussing a refusal to collect the taxes for the state at all. In the progressive city of Burlington, a “tax revolt” drew 150 people to protest at city hall. Even in the off-the-charts-liberal Brattleboro citizens are calling for an “immediate freeze on town spending,” as the Reformer’s left-wing editorial page sounded more like Rush Limbaugh, “…cost of living increases have been automatically approved for town departments without any attempt to justify why those increases are needed…. If town residents have to tighten their belts to pay additional taxes and fees to cover the various deficits, town departments should also have to examine what they can do without…. Town officials have lost their credibility with residents…. [They have] erected a multitude of new offices, and sent out hithe! r swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” Oops. That last one wasn’t from the Reformer, it’s from the Declaration, but it kind of fits right in, doesn’t it.
This Fourth of July, perhaps Vermonters will not just celebrate having the freedoms the Revolution gave us, and which we all too often take for granted, but also to remember what drove our Founding Fathers to war to create those freedoms, and what had to be gotten rid of – taxes, regulations and system lacking in accountability -- for our freedom to exist at all.
Happily, the Supreme Court struck down Vermont’s campaign finance law (Act 64) limiting contributions by citizens to candidates as well as spending limits on campaigns themselves. Ironically, this flagrant overreach by our liberal legislature has given rise to the possibility Vermonters will actually have an election with their First Amendment rights… well, intact is not the word. But, unless it is determined we must revert back to pre 1997 limits, we could have an election where we’re free to give and spend whatever we want. Cool. Let’s see if the world comes to an end.
Many of our legislators in Montpelier, led by Speaker of the House Gaye Symington, are already running around like Chicken Little with his head cut off, squawking that the sky is falling and we need for a special session to save us all from… what, exactly, ourselves? The session doesn’t look like it will happen, but the Gang in Montpelier will no doubt make a priority of “fixing” campaign “reform,” so it’s up to us to make sure that whatever machination they concoct upholds the true language and intent of the Constitution, which is simple: pass no law.
The First Amendment is not that long, yet too many folks still tend to rely on the Cliff’s Notes version (“Free Speech! Free Press, with a capital “P”! Separation of church and state!”). This does us all a terrible disservice because it creates some severe misperceptions about our rights as citizens. As we celebrate what the flag stands for this week, it worth looking at the actual words behind that majestic symbol:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievance.
Nothing about “separation of church and state,” a phrase that never appears anywhere in the Constitution, but that’s a whole other topic. As far as campaign finance “reform” goes, most of the grave harm done by laws like McCain-Feingold and Act 64 is not to free speech (though that’s all we ever hear about, “money isn’t speech!”) but rather to our freedoms of press and to peaceably assemble to petition the government.
“Press,” in the Constitution, does not mean “the Media.” It means that just as I as a citizen have the right to say anything I darn well please (speech), I also have the right to put those opinions down on paper (press) and distribute those ideas. And press IS money. Even back in 1789 you had to be able to afford at least a sheet of paper a pencil and a thumb tack to exercise this right, and who’s to limit how many sheets of paper and thumb tacks one should be allowed to buy? What’s more, anyone and everyone who agrees with my opinions is free to come along and join me, coordinate with me, in chorus (assembly).
And, if the Constitution were in force, the government couldn’t pass any law hindering me in any way from doing any or all of these things. But the Constitution is not in force.
Try “printing” and publishing certain political statements 60 days before an election. The McCain-Feingold law will punish you for doing so – your right to free press be damned. Martha Rainville just called for a clean campaign pledge, involving outside groups. But if she actually coordinated with, or should we say assembled with them to come to an agreement, she could be punished under law.
The Supreme Court’s overruling Act 64 is a good start, but even it does not go nearly far enough toward restoring our First Amendment rights. While striking down Vermont’s contribution limits, they did not strike down any contribution limits. Quite the opposite. Justice Stephen Bryer’s plurality opinion stating that contribution limits can be constitutional, Vermont’s were just tooooo low, reminds one of the old joke about the prostitute – we’ve determined to shred the First Amendment, now we’re just haggling over price.
But this decision does give us in Vermont an opportunity. To some degree, we been handed a clean slate. When the legislature comes back, let’s make sure we keep it clean by, as the Constitution demands, “passing NO law.”
On a lighter, or should I say Fluffier, note…
There are several reasons why I feel compelled to write about the legislative battle over Fluffernutter sandwiches that erupted last week in Boston. A big one is the fact that when elected officials are doing something this stupid -- and it’s not taking place in Vermont --well, this is refreshing news one has to point out! It’s hard pass up the chance to be on the other side of national ridicule for once.
For those of you who missed this story, Massachusetts State Senator Jarrett T. Barrios was outraged by the fact that his son was served a Fluffernutter sandwich in his public school cafeteria. Given that Fluff is essentially sugar oddly mutated to have the consistency of spackle, as a parent the man has a point. Why is a public school, with a captive audience of children facing a growing obesity crisis, feeding them something that is nutritionally bankrupt? A substance that Barrios himself pointed out in a Boston Globe interview, should probably not even be called food?
As a legislator, Barrios submitted an amendment to a “junk food” bill banning soda, candy, etc. from school vending machines that would limit the school to serving Fluff just one day a week. If you’re like me, you’re immediate reaction is how can legislators justify using taxpayer dollars to put this stuff in kids’ bodies at all, then tell us we need to raise other taxes to deal with an exploding health care crisis. But then, Massachusetts legislators are not like me. Barrios’ amendment was greeted with a bill proposed by Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein to make the Fluffernutter the Massachusetts state sandwich! (Yup, this is better than our bill to ban cropping dogs’ ears.)
Okay. I know where you think this is going. You’re picking sides in the Fluff debate. Yes, public schools should only serve organic salads! No, every red-blooded American kid has a right to enjoy a tasty treat whenever they darn well please!... Don’t go there. Think outside the big-box-school and ask yourself why is this a battle at all? Consider this ridiculous flap over Fluff as a shining example of why one-size-fits-all education doesn’t work, and as a small but good example of why we need school choice.
It is absurd that something as trivial as a sandwich requires an act of the legislature – but this absurdity is what we have wrought with our public school system. Why does everybody have to live with a menu decision driven by, clearly, two morons? Why, if parents want to send their kid to a school that thinks Fluff is good, can’t they choose a school that serves it? Or, if not, choose a school that believes quality nutrition is an important part of a child’s education. Let the free market go to work, and let parents decide what’s best for their kids.
My prediction is that if parents could vote with their feet and their wallets on these and other truly important issues in their children’s schools, not only would there would be a lot less Fluff filling kids’ stomachs – there’d be a lot less fluff filling their heads as well.
Last Chance to Register for FreedomFest!
Don’t miss FreedomFest on July 8th at U-32 High School in East Montpelier (1.5 miles east of Jct. U.S. 2 and U.S. 302)
If you're running for office, you won't have a better opportunity to meet the best organized, most involved citizens in Vermont. If you're a voter, this is a great opportunity to meet the candidates who want to represent you in Montpelier and in Washington DC. And no matter who you are, FreedomFest is where you'll get the most comprehensive and entertaining look at the issues that will shape the next election.
Our Keynote speaker is Becky Norton Dunlop of the Heritage Foundation. Other speakers include, James Dwinell (Dwinell Political Report), Bill Sayre (Associated Industries of Vermont), Chris Robbins (State Board of Education), Art Woolf (UVM Economics Department) , Bruce Shields (Vermont Farm Bureau), Kevin Blier (Vermont Renewal), Rob Arnakis (The Leadership Institute), Rob Roper (FreedomWorks), and John McClaughry (Ethan Allen Institute).
Celebrate your freedom on the 4th. Stand up for it on the 8th! We look forward to seeing you at FreedomFest 2006!
Register early by emailing: email@example.com, or call 802-695-1448.
If you would like to learn more about FreedomWorks-Vermont, or to get involved in the fight for lower taxes, smaller government and greater economic opportunity, please contact State Director, Rob Roper, at 802-999-8145, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.freedomworks.org/vermont/. Join the fight for lower taxes, smaller government, and greater economic opportunity.
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