A wonderful bakery exists two blocks from my new address so Sunday morning I walked over to buy some fresh croissants. On the way, I stopped at a newspaper stand and bent down to read the headline. Apparently, our city commissioners had passed an ordinance which required property owners to obtain permits to trim or remove trees on their property. Permits to trim trees in parking strips have long been a requirement but never for one’s property.
Why the new regulation was necessary, I can’t imagine. It may accrue more fees to the city but I doubt it will encourage tree maintenance. Despite my years in local government, I’m always appalled by its nanny instincts, and our current leaders are among the nanniest. While our eyes are focused on the Isis bombings in Paris or the Taliban’s proclamation that it intends to target the children of soldiers for assassination, a creeping do-gooder impulse is quietly strangling the life out of citizen rights. We would do well to remember that all politics is local because there, too, we can lose our freedom. A father in Florida, for example, wanted to discipline his 12-year old daughter after her heated argument with her sister. To protect himself against a charge of child abuse, he called the police. Only after they’d arrive did dad administer four good ones on the girl’s behind. A report was filed. It read: “No crime had been committed. “ (“Only in America,” The Week, January 16, 2015, pg 6.)
In another instance, a Maryland councilman threatened to sue a local newspaper if it continued to print his name without his permission. Fortunately, his attempt to stifle freedom of speech, failed. Recognizing the official was sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, in their next edition the newspaper printed an editorial listing the councilman’s name a dozen times. (Ibid, pg. 6.)
I’m no pessimist about government. It can do good work. But any system invented by humans bears watching. I’ve never met an oppressive regulation or law or war that didn’t begin with a good intention. Leaving governance to others and refusing to vote is no solution. Closing your eyes to the beast doesn’t make it disappear. A citizen’s duty is to keep watch on our leaders. I never voted for Ronald Reagan but he got it right when he said, ‘The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”