Saturday, April 03, 2010

Compared to what?..

I made the Honor Roll a few times back at Millville Grade School. More times than my old buddy Stinky Wilmont. I can't remember a single time that he made it. On the other hand, I'm hard-pressed to remember a time that Bernice Hawkins didn't make the honor roll. So I felt pretty good when I compared my academic prowess to that of Stinky. But I felt pretty dumb if I compared myself to Bernice.

In later years, whenever someone would ask Stinky "How's your wife?", he would always reply "Compared to who?". Bernice would probably have said "whom".

I guess that's an example of things being relative. I always thought we were poor when I was a kid, and by a lot of standards I'm still poor today. Looking back, I guess we were a lot better off than a lot of people in the world, and looking around, I guess we still are today. Relatively speaking, of course.

Seems like a lot of things are that way. We had some really nice days in March. A lot nicer than most of the days we had in February, but not nearly as nice as most of the days we are going to have in June. And there are some pretty nice homes in our neighborhood. Not nearly as fancy as the homes in Beverly Hills, I suppose, but a heck of a lot nicer than the ones we've seen in Haiti over the last few weeks. Once again, every thing's relative.

Americans have always held a fierce pride about being a free nation. And as a nation and a people, we've done a lot of fighting over the years to make sure we stayed that way. Sometimes with guns, sometimes with words, sometimes with armies, and sometimes with individuals.

And I think most Americans still consider themselves to be relatively free. Certainly the information the government is gathering from the current census isn't nearly as intrusive as the information some countries gather from their citizens. Unless you were one of those 2 million people that had to answer (under penalty of law) the long census form. And even then it wasn't as much as what some governments ask.

And unlike a lot of countries, here in America we are free to own property, provided, of course, that we pay our property taxes to the government every year. Otherwise, somebody else will be free to own it, and pay the taxes on it.

Here before too long, and at least for awhile, we will be free to choose which company we want to buy our health insurance from, even though we won't be free to choose what type of policy to buy, and even though we won't be free to choose not to buy it at all.

And we certainly don't have to show our papers to the police just because they ask to see them. Of course you do have to show them your driver's license if they catch you driving or riding without your seat belt. And if Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsay Graham get their way, you'll have to show and verify your biometric Social Security card before you can get a job. Or get on an airplane. But that's all. Probably.

Back in 2004, Libertarian Presidential Candidate hopeful Gary Nolan came to Hagerstown and asked his audience if they could name 3 things that our government doesn't tax or regulate. Nobody could. I've had 6 years to think about it and I still can't.

Just like I used to take comfort in the fact that I was getting better grades than Stinky was getting, it's easy to become complacent as a nation, and rationalize that even though we lose a little more freedom each time Congress convenes, we are still more free than a lot of people in the world. And it would be hard to argue that we aren't.

But my goal at Millville Grade School should have been to get the best grades possible, regardless of what kind of grades Stinky got.

And our goal as Americans should be to remain free, regardless of what other countries decide to do. And maybe get back up to 4 or 5 things that government doesn't tax or regulate.

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