The title refers to the bombs at the Boston Marathon on April 15, within a few blocks of where I live in Back Bay, the extraordinary, selfless and courageous actions of many people trained and untrained that undoubtedly saved many lives, and the votes on April 17 by 45 U.S. Senators (including 41 Republicans) to reject even minimal, admittedly imperfect, tightening of background checks on gun purchasers. Obviously the only checks that predominantly motivate these Senators are those written by single issue, greedy and selfish special interests (in this case the gun manufacturers’ lobby aka the NRA) to influence relatively small numbers of voters in primary elections. Edmund Burke said,
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” The obvious question is where are the good men and women and is it possible for them to be elected? I also find the commentary in this week’s Economist (ironically in the week of Patriots’ Day in the column with the byeline of Lexington) that seems to profess admiration for these votes on the grounds that Americans will not willingly trade liberty for security.”
Resistance to the erosion of liberty is praiseworthy. It is one of the defining, lasting and over time expanding values (to groups initially not included such as women and slaves) that are embodied in the American Revolution. But that is not the value that is at risk today. At risk are the essential linkages between individual rights and obligations and individuals’ actions and the responsibilities they take for their consequences. My individual rights are a travesty unless I respect the rights of others and they respect mine. The idea that individuals can exercise their rights in ways that infringe those of others seems to be being ignored, while the idea that in practice he or she that has the most money should be allowed to use this power to prioritize their rights over others’ seems to be gaining currency (no pun intended). The connections between our individual rights and our obligations towards and dependence on others are also traditional American values, embedded in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They are being eroded, weakened and increasingly ignored (or disparaged as “Socialist” although they predate Socialism) in our public discourse and the making of public policies and corporate behavior, although not in the responses shown by spectators, runners, and medical and public safety personnel on Boylston Street on the afternoon of April 15, 2013.