Freedom in decline? How to explain all the guns and beer?

By JAYSON JACOBY Baker City Herald July 03, 2009 09:35 am

The notion that freedom is on the wane in America seems to have gained widespread currency these past several years. This is an alarming prospect at any time, but it seems to me particularly so as I ponder the matter on this eve of America’s birthday.

On July 4, more than on any other day, we celebrate our shared belief that freedom is not merely desirable but necessary, the granitic foundation which underlies and supports the grand and noble construction that is the United States.

The possibility that the bedrock beneath us might in fact be riddled with cracks after 233 years, which is no great span in the life of a nation, troubles me greatly.

But I’ve been going over some of the evidence for this theory, and in some cases putting up the testimony and the exhibits and the arguments against my own modest pursuits, and I just can’t make a case out of it.

In the past year alone, while I was on public land managed by the same federal government which some people seem to believe is amassing its forces for an offensive against citizens’ rights, I’ve covered enough miles in a four-wheel drive, and drunk enough cans of beer (after parking, of course), and fired enough .22 long rifle rounds, some of them in the vicinity of jackrabbits, to render me incapable of detecting on the breeze the imminent arrival of President Obama’s minions.

What I’ve done, to put it another way, is wallow in America’s abundance of freedom rather than bemoan its alleged shortage.

So long as I can go onto public ground and do there pretty much whatever I want to do that involves guns, beer and a rig with low-range and a lot of ground clearance, provided of course that I don’t threaten anybody, or run over or shoot a protected species, well, I’m satisfied that our republic has retained most of the nutrients that our forefathers fortified it with.

(Jackrabbits, fortunately, are not protected. Not by the feds, anyway. My shoddy marksmanship, however, affords the rabbits a measure of protection which, given their agility and speed, they don’t really need.)

I don’t mean to imply that the government never erodes freedom.

I wonder, by way of example, how Obama’s climate change bill might affect the economy — and more to the point my minuscule slice of it.

If Obama’s legislation results in my laying out more money to keep my home tolerably warm in winter, then I won’t be able to spend those dollars the way I want to.

On .22 shells, for instance. Or beer.

This is a minor freedom, I suppose. Yet I feel uneasy about segregating freedoms into the ones I really cherish and those I’m willing to surrender. It’s a distasteful practice, akin to being asked to decide which of my children is expendable.

On the other hand, if the store runs out of .22 rounds it’s not because Obama spirited them off to a government warehouse.

I have no quarrel with people who watch the government with the jaded eye of a father whose teenage daughter’s first date shows up wearing one of those ankle bracelets they lock on you when you’re under house arrest.

I think a society is better off whose citizens maintain a healthy distrust of their government and who expect, as the owner of a clever dog does, that it will on occasion poke its nose where it shouldn’t.

I applaud such cynicism whether it’s directed at a federal government that bans motor vehicles from forest roads or a city that tells people where they have to park their rusted Oldsmobiles.

But I also believe that you get the clearest view of a man’s freedom by looking at the man himself, and not the hysterical blatherings posted on some blog.

I understand that Obama’s voting record when he was an Illinois state senator is not the sort that gets a person invited to the NRA convention.

Yet I don’t see how that proves the president will be coming for my guns as soon as he’s towed the SUV out of my driveway.

For one thing, although the Second Amendment makes no mention of FJ Cruisers, I still drive mine whenever I want to.

This proclivity for substituting partisan theory for reality is not, of course, confined to one end of the political spectrum.

For most of George W. Bush’s tenure his critics suggested that the president, wielding his secret wiretaps and his well-honed Patriot Act, had hacked his way through pretty much the whole of the Bill of Rights.

I noticed, though, that a lot of people who were convinced they’d ferreted out the president’s Gestapo-like tendencies had no trouble getting into the newspapers and on TV.

I can’t reconcile that level of publicity — much of which, in the case of network TV, was broadcast on government-controlled airwaves — with the portrait certain pundits have painted of the Bush administration.

In a properly repressive regime, as I understand it, the people who oppose the leaders get a jail cell — or a shallow grave.

In America they get talk shows and plenty of space on the editorial page.

I like that about our country.

I also like that when we want to get away from the rigors of arguing politics — on holidays such as Independence Day, for example — we can drive into the sagebrush or up to the mountains.

And, for those so inclined, we can bring along our guns and our beer.

Or a few sparklers and a six-pack of soda pop.

It’s your choice.

Have fun making it.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.