Things could get ugly
By Lady Liberty
So, tell me: Did you get what you wanted for Christmas? My guess is that some of you did, and some of you didn't. I'm willing to bet that every last one of you, though, got something that you can't, under any circumstances whatsoever, imagine anybody wanting at all. Me? Among other more welcome gifts, I got some costume jewelry that was...well, "hideous" might not be too strong a word. (Don't worry, I'm not so ungrateful as to say such a thing about any gift I got from somebody who actually owns a computer and who might conceivably see this particular column. And those of you who do see it will kindly not say anything, right?)
Now that the holidays are over and the decorations stored away for another year, there's really only one thing left to do. That, of course, involves dealing with those unwanted gifts. Fortunately, you have several options available to you where that seriously ugly sweater you received from Aunt Nancy is concerned:
1. Assuming you know where the sweater was purchased, you can return it, at which time you can exchange its value for something you like better.
2. You might hide the sweater away at the bottom of drawer somewhere, only to be brought out on select holidays ("select" being defined as those at which Aunt Nancy will be present).
3. You could give the sweater to charity (in fairness, those in need might think of "ugly" as less important than "warm").
4. Finally, you could grit your teeth, tell Aunt Nancy how much you love the sweater, and wear it regularly despite the sidelong looks you get from everyone you meet.
The good news is that, no matter what your style, you only have to worry about ugly sweaters once a year. Unfortunately, it seems like it's Christmas year 'round in Washington, and most of us are the unwilling recipients of all sorts of "goodies" given to us by all sorts of politicians who say they're only doing what they think will make us happy and keep us warm.
When we get these unwanted "presents" from Washington, what options do we have?
1. We can, either individually or via class action, file lawsuits to fight specific provisions of bad laws.
This technique hasn't been terribly successful in preventing Washington from passing bad laws, but it has had some positive effects in delaying the implementation of such laws. Further, some particularly onerous things might be made less onerous or even eliminated as the result of sufficiently burdensome (to the government, of course) lawsuits.
2. We can ignore the laws.
Ignoring bad laws is both a really good idea and a singularly bad one.The good part of ignoring unconstitutional laws is that (technically, at least) it's not only legal for us to do so but mandatory under the Constitution itself. The bad news is the likely result of doing the right and patriotic thing, which may involve such negative consequences as arrests, fines, seizures, and jail time.
While I can't and won't encourage you to ignore any duly legislated laws (mostly because it would be illegal for me to do so), I can point out that people in sufficient numbers ignoring laws will spread the risk out over so many people that the risks to any given individual may suddenly plummet into the acceptable range. There are, after all, only so many cops, courtrooms, and jail cells! And while I'd certainly never suggest you take it on yourself to accept an even larger risk, I will say that precedents can be very, very good things when it comes to overturning bad laws.
3. We can pretend the laws don't apply to us.
We have nothing to hide, after all. We aren't criminals or terrorists, so the law actually won't affect us anyway.
The problem here, of course, is that having nothing to hide or not being a criminal has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not the law will "punish" us. We are losing our anonymity and our privacy at an alarming pace. We're losing our dignity (are you personally so anxious to appear naked before TSA screeners?) almost as quickly. Our children think nothing of offering up fingerprints to buy their school lunch or to board their school bus. And if that's not enough to lose, remember that mistakes have been and will be made and that our previous losses will likely pale when we're faced with losing our freedom!
I'd also point out that, while cases landing innocent Americans in jail will probably be few, the mistakes made on databases will be rampant. Those mistakes will cost people jobs, ruin reputations, make travel inconvenient or impossible, and probably involve significant expense.Those things are going to happen to the guilty and the innocent alike, and since most people aren't guilty, most sufferers will be innocent.
4. Finally, and as is sadly the usual case, we can accept the law however personally disgusted we may be, and then comply willingly if not happily with it.
Many people aren't thrilled with the upcoming implementation of REAL ID. They're smart enough to know it won't do much to curb illegal immigration, and they're well aware that it will be expensive and inconvenient for states to implement. These national ID cards will also provide a centralized database for the federal government to monitor our travels, jobs, and who knows how much more — though fewer people seem to know or care about that little caveat.
Despite the obvious disgust, with the exception of a few diehard freedom fighters and fundamentalist Christians who consider such things the Biblical "Mark of the Beast" (I'll certainly go along with it being evil if nothing else), most people will hold their breath and comply. After all, they won't be able to get on a plane or open a bank account or get into a federal building without one, and we can't be so inconvenienced, can we?
(We can be so inconvenienced, of course, but most of us won't be — and here's the really ironic thing: REAL ID is an ideal opportunity to exercise option 2 and ignore the law. You won't be arrested for failing to have a compliant ID card. You'll just be inconvenienced. And if enough people are inconvenienced, do you really think that the banks without customers and the airlines without passengers won't have a little something to say to the government about it?)
There are many unappreciated (or underappreciated) Christmas gifts. There are even more laws that are ugly, ill-fitting, or outright threatening. But the unattractive sweater and REAL ID seem to sum them all up quite nicely: We don't want them, and we don't need them. But for all the things we can see in common, there's one all important facet that makes the two very different indeed, and that is this:
You can see and be disgusted by the ugly sweater the moment you open the package. Those eye stabbing colors, that design that only Aunt Nancy could love, is right there in your hands. But the ugliest laws require that you know about them before you can see how really problematic they are. You have to know that they've been passed, and you have to know what provisions they contain. You have to go beyond media overviews (which are all too often propaganda stories disguised as news). And most people just aren't willing to go to that much effort. In fact, they'll go to more trouble to avoid wearing an ugly sweater than they will to work to see that ugly laws are repealed or, better still, aren't passed in the first place.
Now that we've looked at the unfortunate difference between these two kinds of unpleasant "gifts," let's get back to their similarties. I've offered up some options we all have when we receive those unwelcome presents. But I deliberately left one off. It's the one that's the most uncomfortable for most of us, but it has the virtue of also being the most effective. It's called "honest communication."
Tell Aunt Nancy you hate the damned sweater! Oh, not in those words, of course. But make it clear you'd rather have a scarf, a clock, or some hideous costume jewelry instead. It won't be easy to look her in the eye and tell her, but it will likely make your gratitude next Christmas more real and your satisfaction with your gift that much greater.
Frankly, the corrollary where Congress is concerned will be more work for you — Aunt Nancy is only one person, and Congress is legion — but it will certainly be emotionally easier on you. And all you need to do is just what you did when you explained things to Aunt Nancy. You tell your politicians that you're tired of getting the same things from them. Make it clear you don't want any more of your freedoms taken from you and that, in fact, the next "gift" out of Washington had better be one that begins to restore those lost freedoms.
Finally, tell your politicians that if they don't start giving you things you like, you'll give them something you're quite sure they won't like: a pink slip. Make it heard loud and clear that, if you don't like what you get, you'll opt to exchange it at the first available opportunity. Now's the time to do that, by the way, what with a "new" Congress just taking office most members of which won their elections based on their promises to get rid of some of the uglier laws we've seen passed in recenet years — and who almost certainly only said they'd do that to get your vote.
You know what I think would be especially cool when we go to vote the next time around? I think we all ought to make a point by wearing an ugly sweater when we cast out ballots. But that's just me.
Oh, and one last thing for the record: The hideous jewelry is on its way to Goodwill. It won't keep any poor people warm, but maybe there's some elderly woman out there on a limited income and with awful taste who will bless the day some kind-hearted soul donated it so that she can feel pretty. I can only hope she doesn't end up giving it to some unsuspecting young thing next Christmas.
Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at firstname.lastname@example.org.