Sunday, July 04, 2004

Barbara Ehrenreich on the Fourth of July

From the New York Times:

When they first heard the Declaration of Independence in July of 1776, New Yorkers were so electrified that they toppled a statue of King George III and had it melted down to make 42,000 bullets for the war. Two hundred twenty-eight years later, you can still get a rush from those opening paragraphs. "We hold these truths to be self-evident." The audacity!
Read a little further to those parts of the declaration we seldom venture into after ninth-grade civics class, and you may feel something other than admiration: an icy chill of recognition. The bulk of the declaration is devoted to a list of charges against George III, several of which bear an eerie relevance to our own time.
George III is accused, for example, of "depriving us in many cases of the benefits of Trial by Jury." Our own George II has imprisoned two U.S. citizens — Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi — since 2002, without benefit of trials, legal counsel or any opportunity to challenge the evidence against them. Even die-hard Tories Scalia and Rehnquist recently judged such executive hauteur intolerable.
It would be silly, of course, to overstate the parallels between 1776 and 2004. The signers of the declaration were colonial subjects of a man they had come to see as a foreign king. One of their major grievances had to do with the tax burden imposed on them to support the king's wars. In contrast, our taxes have been reduced — especially for those who need the money least — and the huge costs of war sloughed off to our children and grandchildren. Nor would it be tactful to press the analogy between our George II and their George III, of whom the British historian John Richard Green wrote: "He had a smaller mind than any English king before him save James II."

It is all good stuff.