NPR's Morning Edition has a story today on a "tea party" rally in Nevada. Listening to the people interviewed, the only thing preventing me from recommending that no one be allowed to protest against the government without having taken a basic civics class is that I have taken a basic civics class.
Now, I know many people with center-right leanings who can make coherent arguments in favor of or against various policies. I enjoy those debates immensely. The people who spoke to NPR, though? Each had some different reason for yelling at their Congressman, ranging from self-interested fear to abject panic, while seeming immune to the basics of what the state actually does in this country.
Item: A woman complained that the EPA has wants to close a public road near her house for unspecified environmental reasons, which will prevent her "three little children" from riding all over the place on all-terrain vehicles. What gives the government the right to close a public road, she asks?
Item: A man rants that "people" (i.e., "you people") are telling him what to do because "Obama won, and they think that gives them the right, like everyone wants to do this, and I'm not 'everyone.'"
Item: Another man believes the government wants to "take over the Internet" in an emergency, and he doesn't want "the government" telling him what to do.
OK. Let's review.
The "government," in a republic like the U.S., is us. "Government" also means many, many different things: Federal, state, county, township, city, water reclamation district, parks authority, and on and on. So, when the "government" wants to close a "public" road (meaning, a road the "government" built in the first place), who gave "them" the right? Well, you did.
You see—and here we need less a civics class than a good Kindergarten teacher—we can't have everything we want. So, every so often, you get to go and vote for the person you think best represents you in "government." Your neighbors vote too. Sometimes they want things you don't; sometimes they do. If the "government" wants to close a road instead of allowing your children to risk death while tearing up the landscape and polluting the air and scaring the bejeebus out of your neighbor's livestock, my bet is that you need to take up the matter with your neighbors, not with the President. And, ma'am, sometimes you lose.
As for the third guy, this presents a trickier problem. Ignorance of basic technical matters often complicates debate. But to discuss the difficulties in "taking over" the Internet, we first have to close our eyes to the subtext of his comment, which involves U.N. troops in black helicopters keeping him under constant surveillance as part of their nefarious plot to control our children with fluoride in the drinking water.
It bothers me that saying we need rational debate between people who have passing acquaintance with the Constitution angers people. But come on. We have serious problems and we need serious discussions to solve them. Let's stop wasting time with the cranks.