Rights and Responsibilities

I’ve spent much of the past 24 hours contemplating the Constitution, and the RESPONSIBILITIES that go along with all the Rights it grants us.

During the run-up to the recent election, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Sharron Angle, Michele Bachman and others, advocated a violent overthrow of the government if they did not get their way at the polls.  Yesterday, a duly-elected Democratic Representative from Arizona, Gabrielle Giffords, was gunned down in public by a disturbed young man who has publicly railed against the government using language not dissimilar to that spouted by Palin, Beck, Angle, and Bachmann.  Perhaps his actions were not directly caused by their hate-filled speech, but it is difficult not to believe that with so much hatred in the air perhaps some of it filtered into this one particular disturbed mind.

Many years ago the first-year students where I was teaching were required to read the U.S. Constitution over the summer before they came to college.  Once they arrived on campus, our task was to engage them in discussions of the Rights and Responsibilities presented in the Constitution.  I remember how difficult it was to get them to recognize that ANY of the Rights might also entail Responsibility of any kind.  Lots of talk about their FREEDOMs, but much mental blockage on the topic of Responsibility.

I fear our current new class of lawmakers may suffer from the same Freshman-itis.  I was hoping that their recent reading of the Constitution on the floor of the House might have opened their ears and minds to the monumental responsibility involved in being a citizen.  Alas, they managed to take the Freshman approach even to reading the Constitution (by choosing an abridged and modified version rather than actually reading the whole thing—which really is not very long anyway.  Read it for yourself at http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution.html).

All I have heard for the past year is “FREEDOM FREEDOM” and proposals that “Second Amendment Remedies” might be an appropriate solution to any situation in which you don’t get your own way.  It is time for someone to stand up and say STOP!  If you spew hatred with your First Amendment Right, then you better be prepared to take responsibility for the consequences.  Stop hiding behind the skirt of “Free Speech” and take responsibility as a citizen for being part of something larger than yourself.  A government by the people and for the people cannot be based on an “all about me” approach.  So far I’ve heard lots of folks de-crying the act of violence, but none of the Republicans who originally incited it have issued an apology.

I’m not holding my breath waiting . . .

Update: I wrote the above before seeing Keith Olbermann’s excellent commentary on this same subject on MSNBC:

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