Understand trade-offs

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Brian Leland’s column falsely characterized Tea Party July 4 celebrations as “angry people” carrying “racist signs”. He misrepresented the Bozeman Tea Party’s 2009 event, which was also contradicted by last Friday’s Missoula Patriots Tea Party event, cosponsored by my group, Americans For Prosperity-Montana. The left wasn’t there protesting, so there were nothing but happy people honoring American freedom and veterans with free live music, free food and free speech. For our event, we paid two permits plus put down a $1,000 deposit—free speech is expensive in Missoula.

Young Americans for Liberty Chairman Kendall Cotton urged civic involvement, and my comments highlighted military versus civilian branches of government. My comments also juxtaposed Leland’s notion that we should manipulate government rules to shut down the free speech of those we disagree with. Here’s a summary:

“Those who would deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves,” said Abraham Lincoln.

Freedom is my favorite topic. I even wear cardboard signs in local parades: “Will Work For Freedom.” However, freedom means different things to different people. But my freedom to practice values I cherish is only as secure as your freedom to do things you enjoy. We don’t all have common values, but we do need to all drink from the common cup of Freedom. If I let your freedom be sacrificed to the politically correct social gods, or the regulation-happy government gods, then my freedoms will no doubt be next. The downhill slide from Freedom is a very slippery slope I can’t naively think it’s going to magically stop just short of my pet passion.

Especially after the 9/11 tragedy, it’s perhaps too easy for us to sacrifice a little freedom for sake of greater societal security. But Franklin warned, “Those who’d trade freedom for security will soon find that they’ve lost both, and deserve neither.” Thankfully, most recognize the danger of trying to achieve societal safety by sacrificing our constitutional rights barring unwarranted search, seizure and snooping—the dangerous notion our own government can treat us all like criminals, just to catch the few who really are criminals. But, unfortunately, far fewer people recognize that we’re trading freedom for security every day in Helena and Washington. Why don’t we recognize it? Because the freedoms we’re sacrificing are not our own: We willingly sacrifice the rich guy’s freedom to keep and spend his own earnings so we can tax-and-spend it to make ourselves more secure in our government programs. We willingly sacrifice the landowner’s freedom to do what he wants with his own property, so we’re more secure in our environment.

I won’t go so far as to say there’s no place for government social programs or regulations. But what I am saying is that we at least need to recognize what’s happening; understand the trade-off—that increased societal security always comes at the expense of somebody’s freedom. There’s no such thing as a free lunch … because Freedom isn’t free.

We honor veterans on the Fourth of July because they’ve paid a high price in blood and sweat for decades so that we might remain free. Veterans know freedom isn’t free. The military as well as the civilian legislature that I served in are vital branches of government. But while those in uniform affect Freedom positively, I’m often saddened to see that those in my civilian branch of government almost always impact Freedom negatively.

While fighting forces have bled and died to gain and defend freedom, the politicians trade it off piecemeal daily. We regulate, legislate, restrict, register, rule, license, codify, certify, confiscate, reallocate, permit, penalize, subsidize, tax, take, bar, ban. And a little freedom slips away with every law we pass.

Walter Judd said Americans are too quick “to trade the freedom of the robin for the freedom of the canary. The canary is free from danger … the cat can’t get him. And free from hunger … his food is set there every day. But there he sits in his cage; while it’s the robin who is truly free.” Which do we want in Montana, the secure false “freedom” of the canary or the true Freedom of the robin? If we truly understood the trade-offs—that “freedom isn’t free” and that freedom is sacrificed incrementally each time we extract more “security” from government—I suspect we’d support leaders for Montana who take us down the path of Freedom.

Joe Balyeat


Americans for Prosperity



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