Jimmy’s Colorado Politics Column | Liberty Day at a pivotal moment

Written by on March 16, 2021

Two hundred and seventy years ago today, on March 16, 1751, James Madison was born. Madison would eventually serve as the fourth president of the United States (1809-1817), but his most significant contributions to the American republic predated his presidency.

Due to his pivotal role in shaping our nation’s Constitution and in drafting the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution, Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The celebration of his birthday and his contributions is known as Liberty Day — an annual recognition Congress even affirmed back in the year 2000.

In a remarkable moment of comity, two unlikely partners — then-U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (Republican) and then-U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (Democrat) — were among those who spearheaded a thoroughly bipartisan effort to commemorate Liberty Day.

At the time, Colorado’s Tancredo was one of the most conservative representatives and Maryland’s Cummings was among the most liberal — yet both men and their colleagues set aside political differences to unanimously approve the resolution in both the House and Senate.

In his brief floor speech, Tancredo credited the “tireless efforts of one individual in my district, a gentleman by the name of Andy McKean.” McKean, who now runs the educational organization Liberty Lives Forever, had taken the lead in 1996 in establishing Liberty Day and a nationwide effort to help educate young Americans about our nation’s founding documents.

On my radio show Saturday, McKean reflected on the 2000 resolution, noting that “no matter what your political affiliation was, everyone realized it’s important that we all need to know what’s in the Constitution.”  He passionately explained why our nation’s universal founding principles are so important to hold onto.

“I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa for five years.  When I was there, people really wanted to come to America.  They wanted me to bring them here because they knew the opportunity and freedom,” McKean recalled.  “We’re not just for America — we’re a beacon of hope…for people all around the world…The stronger we are and the freer we are, the more that sends the message to the rest of the world, this is something worth emulating.”

Unfortunately, the United States is at a low point in many ways.  We are easily at one of the most partisan moments in American political history, with Republicans and Democrats almost literally at each other’s throats.  This partisanship has negatively impacted Americans’ views of our nation’s founding.  Many on the left now reduce the Founding Fathers to mere racists who supposedly founded this country “for slavery,” thus discounting their achievements.

As Nikole Hannah-Jones, lead architect of the New York Times’ influential, left-wing 1619 Project, disparagingly claimed, “Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written.”  One has to wonder if Cummings, one of America’s leading Black voices for decades, had channeled Hannah-Jones’ beliefs in 2000, would he have cosponsored the Liberty Day resolution?  

We’re also witnessing affronts to our constitutional liberties in shocking ways.  Here in Colorado, Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan, who is running against Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, has introduced SB21-132 to “regulate digital communications.”  The bill creates a dystopian state government division and commission to regulate speech online; mandates that digital communications platforms “register” and even inflicts a possible $5,000-per-day fine for failure to comply.

Republican state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg has blasted this “ministry of truth.”  On my show Saturday, we discussed the central purpose of the Bill of Rights, drafted by Madison.  That is, as Sonnenberg put it, “to protect the citizens from government.”

“Our forefathers thought so much of free speech that they made that the First Amendment to our Constitution,” he said.

In his 1788 “General Defense of the Constitution,” Madison observed, “There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

Isn’t Donavan’s SB132 an example of a “gradual and silent encroachment of those in power”? Indeed, as Madison would tell you, the most crucial premise behind the freedoms of speech and the press is to empower citizens to check the government — not for the government to check the people.

Amidst this tense time in American history, McKean rightly urges greater education.  “I think the key to preserving, protecting and defending our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, is public education,” he told me.  “You have to know what you’re fighting for and what you’re protecting, what your rights are, and participate in our government.”

In the spirit of Madison and Liberty Day, we must also reassert the people’s power over government.  Government is not empowered to dictate “truth” to us.  That’s the hallmark of dictators and Ministries of Truth.

Here in the United States of America, We the People own that right.

Click here to read the rest of Jimmy’s March 16 column at Colorado Politics, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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