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Monday, Feb 24 2014 11:00 PM

WILLIAM BEZDEK: In order to save our democracy, we must overcome the fanatics

President Abraham Lincoln, in a short speech given at the dedication of the cemetery for those killed at Gettysburg, took the opportunity to exhort the nation to what he considered unfinished work: "... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that, government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

He was not only fighting for the restoration of the Union but was very much aware that, throughout history, all previous democracies of the people had not survived ("That a house divided against itself could not stand"). Lincoln not only had to fight a war with the southern secessionists but also maintain political balance between radical and conservative Republican factions, peace-at-any-cost Democrats and violent anti-draft demonstrators. It is remarkable considering these difficulties that he not only succeeded but, by means of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, changed the moral deficit in our country and Constitution that previously permitted slavery to exist in our boarders.

Our democracy, at this time, is faced with a similar threat to its survival. We have always had some dysfunction in our system of government; however, the present dysfunction is beyond all previous levels. It has become a concern to a great many citizens and many friendly nations. There is even a growing movement to draft a new constitution in order to establish a more-effective and efficient method of self-government.

I do not think this is yet necessary. Our present Constitution had been sufficient in the past and, as the example of Lincoln demonstrates, should be sufficient to re-establish a government by the people and for the people. What it requires is the identification and purging from the government of all "fanatics." What is a fanatic? This is a person who believes only his option matters, and in order to establish his opinion, he ignores all other opinions. He never compromises, even though his actions and beliefs cause great harm to others and the country. Some examples are: taking a pledge to never raise taxes; shutting down the government to establish his opinion, even though all his prior attempts at establishment have been rejected; attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act without offering any alternative; blind faith in the present actions without thought to long-term effects; blind allegiance to the doctrine of small government without defining what that means.

Let us look at the "small government" mantra. It seems to be the fanatic's opinion that government limits freedom; therefore, government is bad because freedom is paramount. This denies the historical record which demonstrates that unbridled freedom without responsibility leads to chaos and violence. Our own Constitution was thought necessary because of the weaknesses and violence seen in our initial attempt at government under the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. Small government in and of itself is not healthy to any democracy. Fanatics often connect under this heading of small government regarding the nation's debt. But just as businesses take on debt to expand and dominate their market, so should government take on debt to maintain infrastructure, establish security and provide for the education and health of their citizens. A certain amount of debt makes economic sense. Fanatics never seem to define what would be an acceptable amount of debt, but when it comes to making a payment for existing debt, they hold the economy hostage in order to extort for some favorite object of their desire.

Why is the present Constitution adequate? It is adequate because it provides the means for correction by simply removing the fanatics. This can be done by voting them out of office or recalling them. This seems an impossible task, seeing as there are presently so many. However, past history has shown that, over and over again, once the public becomes aware to the extent of harm, they will rise to the occasion and defeat the fanatics. Lincoln did it, and there appears now to be an awakening consciousness that this again needs to done. The first test will be the upcoming November elections. So if this dysfunctional government with its fanatical cliques disgusts you, remember: Your vote will count.

William D. Bezdek , M.D., of Bakersfield is a retired physician.

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