In judging the electorate that turned him out of office, state Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro said Pennsylvania’s voters were “blinded by rage.”
In fact, it was the exact opposite. In a welcome change, the voters took off their blinders and could clearly see an entrenched political class in Pennsylvania that has become increasingly pretentious, over-paid, and corrupt.
As a case in point, directly related to Nigro, the voters, rather than being “blinded by rage,” saw a judiciary that has turned a blind eye for decades as our politicians took illegal pay hikes by way of so-called “unvouchered expenses,” a practice that’s a clear violation of a provision in the state Constitution that forbids lawmakers from increasing their salaries during their current terms in office.
In the underhanded world of Pennsylvania politics where one money-grubbing hand washes the other, “unvouchered expenses” means the politicians get their salary increases illegally and prematurely through reimbursements for expenses that don’t exist while the judges flash a green light to the practice and pocket their own pay hikes.
A thought by Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850), a French journalist and economist and an early activist for free markets, is pertinent to our current situation in Pennsylvania. “When law and morality contradict each other,” he wrote, “the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.”
It might be something that Mr. Nigro can’t grasp, but what happened on Election Day is that more voters in Pennsylvania than normal decided against losing their moral sense. They said the 16 percent to 54 percent pay raises that the Legislature awarded to itself in a no-debate, no-public input, middle-of-the-night vote were wrong, and that it was wrong for politicians to grab the money more than a year early by means of reimbursements for imaginary expenses, and wrong for the judiciary to be go-along cronies in the entire illicit process.
Rather than being “blinded by rage,” voters appropriately concluded that “losing respect for the law” is exactly the right response when the law is wrong. Similarly, losing respect for politicians is exactly the right response when lawmakers turn into a collective of perpetual lawbreakers.
Before it was a beer, Samuel Adams was a leader in the fight against British colonial rule and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In fighting an entrenched and self-aggrandizing political power, Adams had this advice: “Be not intimidated, nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretense of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice.”
Choosing sides in a battle between political subjugation and individual sovereignty, said Adams, is to choose sides between slavery and freedom: “If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; may your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”
The danger, always, is for those who are ahead of the crowd, those who see early an emperor without clothes, and say it. Historically, it’s those groundbreakers, those willing to speak with candor, those disposed to be the targets of embedded authorities and ingrained prejudices, who have been essential in the advances of liberty and societal evolution.
Again, from Samuel Adams, and directly applicable to those relatively few in Pennsylvania who started the ball rolling against the pay hike shenanigans that transpired in Harrisburg in the wee hours of July 7: “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.”
John Adams, another early patriot in the American revolution, and later the first Vice President of the United States and the second President of the United States, warned of the obsession that those in control have to eliminate any and all beliefs that they see as either frightening or erroneous: “The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.”
Still, the larger danger, as America’s Founders cautioned, was in doing nothing, doing nothing in the face of growing absolutism, nothing as restraints on self-determination become more suffocating, nothing as the acts of malice become more sordid and the roots of repression grow deeper.