By Jim Lee
Here we are rounding the first curve in yet another presidential race. It feels like they get closer and closer together each time.
Every four years we have this uniquely American ritual in which the citizens have the chance to show they are in charge. Those who govern are hired and fired by the governed. Anybody who has ever picked up a history book or a newspaper should marvel at this peaceful transition of power.
How many countries are home to four of their former chiefs of state?
Notice I said chiefs of state, not heads of government, i.e. presidents, monarchs, etc., not out-of-office premiers or prime ministers.
If I may digress (don’t I always?), another unique quality of our executive branch is that we combine the chief of state and head of government into one office — the authors of our Constitution didn’t realize this combination was impossible, so they simply made it work.
In spite of this, apathy runs rampant. The majority of qualified voters just don’t vote.
Indifference is the Petri dish of fascism. If we want a dictator, all we have to do is not care. Power is a narcotic if it’s not fenced in, growing like an insidious laboratory culture. So we periodically have to show the politicians who’s boss. If we don’t, they will become boss while we hang around wondering where our freedom went.
If we smugly assume nobody can steal our freedom or way of life because we have the Constitution, we need to rethink the matter. The Constitution can be changed, and without vigilance it can be defied or ignored.
And we need always to bear in mind that the Constitution is not the only set of rules. It comes before all other rules, but it does not reside in some grand legal vacuum.
We have enacted law, and we have traditional law. Enacted law comes from legislative bodies such as Congress and state legislatures. The people in these bodies are chosen by and represent the citizens. We do not make the laws, but we hire and fire the people who do — if we bother to vote.
Traditional law (the federal government and all states but Louisiana), a.k.a. common law, means we have to do what has been previously decided unless a higher court overturns it, the rule of precedent.
We hire and fire the people who make these decisions, or the people who appoint them — if and only if we vote.
We have to pay attention to what is going on, hopefully listening to all points of view, and decide whom to hire or fire — if we really don’t want our public servants to become our rulers.
If we don’t get involved, we abdicate our citizen sovereignty.
The politicians have been straining at the leash since the beginning; they’re just more subtle about it now, or rely more on apathy to get away with it.
Back in 1798, a law was pushed through that tossed people in jail for criticizing a politician or public policy. It was so bad that two state legislatures passed resolutions against it before it was repealed.
During the Civil War, the Constitutional right of habeas corpus was suspended. In my lifetime Japanese-Americans were summarily locked up in concentration camps.
Constitutional rights, such as the right to legal representation and a speedy public trial, have been trampled more than once in our history.
All political parties have been guilty of acts like these, and were stopped only by citizen involvement. People learned that people rule.
Be involved, or atrophy will take our sovereignty away.
Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: