When I scan the political landscape of the Peninsula, I am unnerved by what I see. Not long ago, a columnist with this paper wrote about a policy she felt should be implemented regarding COVID and whether or not one chose to take the vaccine. I could hardly believe what I read. To me, it was strident, as though it came straight out of Germany in the 1930s or ’40s. Yet there it was, a sentiment of control, labeling and shaming, emanating from someone who once served as an elected official in one of our local cities.
In the spirit of offering an antidote, I thought a lesson on liberty and freedom might be in order. If we are to forfeit these two great principles upon which our country was founded, at least we ought to know what it is we are sacrificing.
Often, the words “liberty” and “freedom” can be found in the same sentence when politicians are quoted. Sometimes it seems like there isn’t the understanding the two are not synonymous. For example, in a speech given by former president George W. Bush, he said this: “Not far from here where we gather today is a symbol of freedom familiar to all Americans — the Liberty Bell.”
President Bush said this in a speech he gave in Philadelphia in December 2005. I had just been reelected to a second term on the San Carlos City Council but admittedly, it was the first time I had given any thought to what the two words might mean respectively. Shortly thereafter, suspecting there might be an important nuance between the two, I gave study to the subject.
The first place I decided to look was in my library. I have many books on our country’s founding and the drafting of the U.S. Constitution. It proved to be a worthwhile place to dig. Almost immediately it became apparent the two words do have different meanings.
Our founders wrote of liberty often, both in the political and individual context. The former made its meaning particularly clear because they wrote about reestablishing the liberty they had gained during the past 100 years or more of their existence. In essence, they had gone from being corporate entities under contract to being colonies with their own general assemblies, able to create their own laws and for the most part, mind their own affairs. One of the alarm bells that alerted them to an impending conflict was the “Suspending Act.” It put the New York Assembly in abeyance. By the time a similar action was taken against Virginia’s House of Burgesses, war was not too distant.
What I gleaned from reading about liberty in the context of our country’s founding is this: Liberty is about establishing and controlling one’s own destiny, whether in the political sense as a state, or in the personal sense as an individual or family. Politically, it is about living according to laws agreed to by duly elected representatives. On a personal level, it means living by one’s own convictions. Looking to Thomas Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence, one sees the word aptly placed between the word “life,” and the phrase, “pursuit of happiness.” The three are inextricably linked.
What then is freedom? The simplest place to look for its meaning is the Bill of Rights. In the First Amendment, there are five freedoms listed, although not always using the word directly. There is freedom of religion, of speech, of the press, of assembly and the freedom or “right ... to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The word is typically coupled with a preposition, either “from” or “to.” What follows is an action or condition.
Therefore, when President George W. Bush gave his speech, he would have been more correct to refer to the Liberty Bell as a symbol of what it is: a symbol of liberty. If he wanted a symbol for freedom, perhaps he should have cited the original copy of the Bill of Rights.
So why I am so unnerved by what I see when scanning the political landscape on the Peninsula? Because I see what appears to be a majority of people willing to follow the “rulings” of an unelected county official, a governor issuing various “executive orders,” or the Biden administration declaring “mandates.”
Where are those questioning how long an “emergency” lasts? Is there no concern for how laws are normally enacted? What about questioning a so-called “vaccine” that is not a vaccine and has shown to lose efficacy in a matter of six to seven months? Where are those declaring their liberty as in, “my body, my choice?” What about the freedom to choose natural immunity?
Finally, know this fact about liberty and freedom: Once lost, they are rarely regained.
A former member of the San Carlos City Council and mayor, Matt Grocott has been involved in political policy on the Peninsula for 17 years. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.