The Government Works for Me. I Do Not Answer to Them, They Answer to Me
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
THE FINAL OF GLENN BECK'S nine liberal principles is a masterful conclusion, rooted deeply in what has gone before.
To do this, Beck uses an extension of the same kind of double message which he has developed in the previous eight principles—but with a twist:
The government works for me.
I do not answer to them,
they answer to me.
This is, on its face, a fundamentally liberal stance.
The conservative bent toward authoritarianism, and the consequent tendency to see government as an outside authority, which Beck touched on in the previous two principles is denounced in these words, loudly and clearly.
The government doesn't tell me who I can marry—I tell the government.
The government doesn't tell my child when to pray, or who to pray to—I tell the government when to back off.
The government doesn't tell me or my spouse whether to have a medical procedure—be it an abortion or anything else—we decide for ourselves.
Even on the surface this principle is far more liberal than Beck's conservative base, standing, as it does, against government intervention in the most intimate affairs of the American family.
And, to that extent, it is also democratic (with a small "d"). Democracy itself is a liberal principle, and can only survive where other liberal principles survive.
But Beck has buried a deeper message by using the wording to launch an ironic attack on four other threats to democracy.
Even though the principle itself is profoundly liberal, he has phrased it as a conservative would in order to point up profound weaknesses in the conservative world view.
Notice the use of the words "I" and "me", and the designation of the government as "them".
By using these words Beck makes a subtle comment here on four aspects of the conservative mind.
Conservatives see themselves as victims.
It's fundamental to their point of view to see themselves as outnumbered (even though is also fundamental to their point of view to believe they are the majority).
The choice of words—not us vs. it, or even us vs. them, but "me" (one) vs. "them" (many) makes this point clear.
This stance, as victims, is part of what makes it possible, for example, to believe that their children's rights are being violated because a teacher isn't allowed to force other children to pray in a school setting.
This stance is also what allows them to argue that they will be victims if other people's right to marry are not suspended.
Conservatives see themselves as autonomous.
The choice of "I" instead of "we" betrays the underlying conservative denial of our interdependence as Americans, or, for that matter, as human beings.
They live in a fantasy world on this point, each believing that they are self-made, that everything they have been able to achieve is a product of their own efforts, without the help of educators, or doctors, or an infrastructure—without even the help of family and friends.
This stance is what makes it possible for them to be so resentful when anyone suggests that perhaps they should give something back. That perhaps a little use of their taxes to give others the same support they have had would be a good thing.
Conservatives see the world as adversarial.
The entire phrasing of the principle, in terms of "me" vs. "them", betrays an adversarial approach to government.
Conservatives live in a world divided into friends and enemies. They really think that the other side is out to kill their grandmother, destroy their religion, force their kids to be gay.
This stance is what makes it possible for Republicans in congress to refuse to participate in the democratic process, to stonewall health care reform, denying any compromise, even though the Democrats began by tossing a single-payer plan (which the majority of America wanted) out the window.
All of this adds up to a sort of reverse authoritarianism.
Notice the wording of the principle again: "They" (the majority government) answer to "me", (the minority of one—the boss).
Their rebellion, though rooted in an illusion of victimhood and autonomy, is not aimed at breaking free of their imagined oppression, but at enforcing real oppression on others.
They see the government as something separate from themselves and other Americans, and imagine that whoever controls it has the right to force their views on others.
They are not after democracy, but the throne.
This stance is what makes it possible for them to believe that, even though they are in the minority on every single issue, the law of the land should force the country as a whole to abide by their views.
Beck is pointing out that these four stances are completely incompatible with democracy.
And, at the same time, he is subtly suggesting a liberal alternative to each:
A victim is someone whose rights are actually being violated.
When a teacher forces prayer on a child, or tells that child they aren't allowed to say grace to themselves quietly over lunch, then his or her right to worship is being violated.
When a minority moral view about abortion is forced upon women making a difficult personal decision, then their right to privacy is being violated.
When an unsubstantiated, religious view is forced into a science classroom, and children are taught that a scientific theory supported by solid research is on the same basis as the modern misinterpretation of an ancient near-eastern myth, then their right to a reliable education is being violated.
We are not autonomous. We are not "self-made men" (or women).
Humans have always lived in community—that's part of what it means to be human.
No one of us could make it alone, without the constant help and support of countless people around us.
We are dependent on our families, our friends, our business associates, the other businesses and organizations in our communities, the government of those communities, our neighboring communities and their governments, our state, our country as a whole.
We are in this together.
We cannot survive if we take an adversarial approach to each other.
Competition is a good thing, in business, in politics, in life—but only up to a point.
When competition becomes warfare, when one side simply refuses to compromise and becomes willing to lie about the other side, or shout them down, or use any kind of power games available to undermine their opponents, we can no longer work together to keep this country healthy and good.
Disagreement is one thing, constant vilification, fanciful lies, and refusal to compromise is another.
Your neighbors are not your enemies—they are your fellow countrymen.
The government doesn't work for you.
Nor does it work for me.
It is neither an employer nor an employee.
It's not only a government for the people, but a government of and by the people.
It's us, together—you and me and all of our fellow patriots, figuring out, together, with compromise, and minority rights, and majority rule, and a thousand other checks and balances, how to promote the general welfare.
How to make this country a safer, healthier, place for our families.
And we can only do that together.
If you, or I, insist that it's "my way or the highway," if we pretend that we can go it alone, without each other, if we insist on seeing the other as the enemy or ourselves as victims, then we will fail.
We will fail our families, our children, and our grandchildren.
But if we work together, if we understand that working together is what this country is about, then we can do it.
America is people who disagree on many things agreeing nevertheless to work together, to form a more perfect union, to promote the general welfare.
When we lose that, we lose everything.
Beck comes full circle at this point to the call for bipartisanship he began with.
He calls for us to embrace the liberal values this country is built on, to put aside our personal religious views—be they Mormonism, or Fundamentalism, or Hinduism, or Catholicism, or Buddhism, or Atheism—and work together for the common good of our families and children.
That, he argues, is a goal we can agree on.
Next time, Glenn Beck's