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Benjamin Franklin and Barack Obama

By Jim Killebrew

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[December 20, 2013]  My friend shared a post awhile ago that had two quotes. One was from Benjamin Franklin and the other from Barack Obama.

Franklin's quote was: "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."

Obama's quote was: "I think it's important to understand that you can't have 100 percent security and then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We're going to have to make some choices as a society."

This led me to thinking about how we compare current leaders with past leaders and make judgments about the intelligence, sincerity or effectiveness of one beside the other. It is difficult to consider any one of them without some twinge of bias, either for or against. I wonder how much romanticism we ascribe to our heroes of the past that adds weight to their credibility or effectiveness when compared with someone we see each day on national television.

When we examine the context of the statements of both men, as well as the culture in which each leader made their respective statements, it should provide some weighted meaning to each statement.

For example, when Mr. Franklin made his statement, we read it with a backdrop of a tyrant king of another country trying to impose burdensome taxes and laws on the people living in the New World. Within that context, the people might have been willing to lose a small portion of their freedom and submit to paying the foreign tax to the king just to keep his soldiers from riding roughshod over the citizens of the colonies. As more taxes were levied and more freedoms were eroded, it is not inconceivable to believe that Mr. Franklin might have surmised that the more freedoms the people allowed the autocratic leader to take just to secure more time living under the duress was something that had surpassed the benefit due to the high cost. Ultimately, when the war began, all security was lost as well as the freedoms that had been given away for the hope of a more lasting security.

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When Mr. Obama made his statement, we read it with a backdrop of the revelation that one of the government's large agencies, the National Security Agency, was spying on Americans and monitoring private telephone conversations between private citizens. The content of the statement seemed to echo the sentiments that Mr. Franklin had voiced more than 240 years ago. It seemed to be implying that loss of privacy and freedom was a small price to pay in order to provide a certain amount of security. Security in this case, however, was not really a threat from external sources. In fact it was a threat from our own government to abolish a certain portion of our constitutional rights contained in the Fourth Amendment that provides for our right to privacy and protection from the government seizing that privacy. The statement from Mr. Obama implies each citizen must make the choice regarding their will to tolerate some loss of privacy, devaluing the Constitution and the right to not be inconvenienced.

Now, perhaps if the NSA had been subverted by an overrun of scoundrels who had taken over and implemented a spy network that surveyed the American citizens clandestinely, and the president found out about it, cleaned house by firing, charging, trying and enforcing court decisions of long sentences for those responsible, he could have come out and rightly quoted Benjamin Franklin's sentiments and most people would have applauded the president. But he didn't; his only action was to tell the American people they should be satisfied with losing a bit of privacy and accept we must spy on Americans simply as a matter of need.

From this perspective, I wonder if the statements from the two men are not positioned at exactly 180 degrees from each other. Mr. Franklin was thinking of a republic form of government where the people held the power over the sovereign kingship of a foreign country, whereas Mr. Obama was thinking of a socialist form of government where the government officials have the power over the people and will make whatever choices necessary to maintain that power to enact any provisions necessary to remain in power. For him, the action he took and the statement he made stood at the peril of the Constitution.

Perhaps in the past 240 years there have been significant changes to which we Americans should begin to pay attention.


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