There is a lot of talk about freedom in the political atmospherics of today. When most politicians are using that word “freedom” in 2014, they are talking about citizens NOT having to do something. And while our Founding Fathers used “freedom” that way occasionally – like not paying that tax on tea – a dive into real American history would reveal that the Washingtons and Jeffersons and Franklins and Adams seldom used “freedom” without connecting it to “responsibility.”
Perhaps the contemporary American who most captures the Founding Fathers’ definition of freedom is Bob Dylan. That iconoclastic rocker asserts that, “A hero is someone who understands that responsibility comes with freedom.” Our Founding Fathers and Dylan give us such an unorthodox view of that word, don’t they? I mean that kind of thinking would not get you elected today! But I wonder. What would happen if our political leaders were inspired by that definition first expressed by those early patriots so many years ago?
Think about the issues that most divide this state and the answer to every one of them hinges on how much of freedom do you think is responsibility?
- Freedom from taxes or the responsibility to create a fair tax system to help tackle a poverty landscape where more than one in four Kentucky kids live?
- Freedom from tackling child abuse because it doesn’t impact “me” or the responsibility to be the face that ends child abuse?
- Freedom from government intervention or the responsibility to protect kids and pregnant women from secondhand smoke in public places?
- Freedom from regulations or the responsibility to curb the pervasive climate of predatory lending practices?
- Freedom from state control or the responsibility to ensure that our public schools serve all kids, no matter what county they live in?
As you would probably guess, my vote in each of these propositions is to err on the side of responsibility. That does not mean that every public policy issue means more government nor does it abrogate the responsibility quotient that we as individual citizens, faith communities and nonprofits should and must play in making this a Commonwealth that lives up to the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Yet Bob Dylan does remind us that Jefferson, in describing the colonists’ grievances against the British, penned, “They too have been deaf to the voice of justice.”
So as those fireworks explode and the hot dogs sizzle on the grill, let’s be clear — hearing the voice of justice is a responsibility around which every Kentuckian should bear witness.