Breaking Bad Habits In Local Government
In the first sentence of his famous work titled “Common Sense” – first published on January 10, 1776 – Thomas Paine, political philosopher and theorist and author of a series of essays and pamphlets capturing and expressing the growing desire for American independence, wrote, “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”
Please note that Mr. Paine did not say that a long habit of not thinking something to be wrong makes it right. Rather, he simply suggested that it gives the thing the appearance of “rightness.” Paine went on to argue that the long and patient suffering of the colonists under the abusive and oppressive regime of King George and the English Parliament had become a long and bad habit that needed to be broken.
Considering the many long and bad habits we continue to practice in Anne Arundel County, Thomas Paine's advice to Americans is as timely in 2017 as it was in 1776.
For example, for quite a while now, we have habitually elected to local office men and women who do not share our founders’ belief that the purpose of government is to protect and defend rights and liberties that are granted to men by God and are a part of His created order.
Moreover, as the understanding and acceptance of this traditional (biblical) view of the government’s purpose has waned among officeholders, so has the fidelity to the text of our federal and state constitutions.
This state of affairs was demonstrated recently when the council voted 4-3 to approve a measure (Bill 87-16, regarding suspension of hotel licenses) despite being admonished by the county attorney that the bill contained several provisions that violated the U.S. Constitution.
The ensuing discussion of the four council members who voted for the flawed bill indicated (at least to me) that although they were aware of the constitutional impediments, they did not see it as their duty or responsibility to follow their oath to the Constitution and to vote in accordance with its provisions. In fact, one councilman mockingly informed me that my commitment to constitutionality was all well and good, but that he would rather be committed to “reality.”
In my view, the lack of respect for the federal or state constitutions and the lack of respect for the higher moral law is a serious “reality,” but not a surprising one. And it is not surprising because it reflects the general antipathy that we find in our culture.
With respect to Bill 87-16, I am grateful that County Executive Steve Schuh decided to veto the bill and that he based his veto on constitutional grounds. But the larger question here is whether “we the people” will affirmatively decide to dedicate ourselves to maintaining our constitutional heritage.
If we, as voters in Anne Arundel County, would desire to enjoy and to pass on the “blessings of liberty,” we must break our long and bad habit of electing men and women who are constitutionally apathetic or constitutionally ignorant. After all, why would we expect someone to defend our rights if they don’t know or care where those rights come from or what those rights are?
Ultimately, we must decide to overcome our own antipathy and ignorance. We won’t get a better government than we demand. And we won’t demand that which we don’t appreciate or understand.