Former Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones recently tweeted a quote from Revolutionary War firebrand Thomas Paine. It said, “The duty of a true patriot is to protect his country from his government.”
Jones endorsed the quote, but he may want to do some additional reading before his next visit to the Paine clinic. Paine once called George Washington a liar, believed in God but despised all organized religion, and proposed giving an annual federal stipend to every American older than 50 — essentially, Social Security.
Oh, and Paine wrote this: “The continual whine of lamenting the burden of taxes … is inconsistent with the sense and spirit of a republic.” If Tim Jones tweeted that quote, I missed it.
The suggestion that Americans have a duty to resist their government is a familiar theme with the far right and the far left. It’s particularly popular with gun owners, who think the Second Amendment is “the ultimate check against governmental tyranny,” as Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican candidate for president, recently put it.
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Government is a part of our daily lives — stoplights, money, schools — but few among us believe we have the duty to physically resist, say, a surly attendant at the DMV.
There is one government function, though, with enormous power: law enforcement. Police officers can search your home, arrest you, use deadly force. The most likely place an ordinary citizen might perceive government “tyranny” is in an encounter with police.
Nebraska state Sen. Ernie Chambers, a legendary leftist, recently said he felt more threatened by the police than by ISIS. Chambers said that if he carried a gun he would use it to protect himself from police, not terrorists. The comments caused a predictable uproar.
Yet Chambers’ rhetoric seems uncomfortably close to that of many conservative zealots. It suggests violence is an acceptable response to perceived government overreach.
Sometimes that rhetoric turns into tragic reality and police officers are killed, as The Star’s Judy L. Thomas recently reported, but it’s clear the people in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore are listening, too.
That can’t be what Tim Jones had in mind, or Thomas Paine. The nation’s founders fought oppression, but that’s only half the story: They formed a country where true patriots can be heard. At the ballot box.
“It is better to obey a bad law, making use at the same time of every argument to show its errors and procure its repeal, than forcibly to violate it,” Paine once wrote.
Sounds like a pretty good tweet.