Socialists or Capitalists
Oct 1, 2010
BY BOBBY HALTON
I have a great friend; he is provocative, insightful, and funny. He is the kind of guy that you never know what he is going to do next. He voted for President Obama then showed up at the Courage and Valor Fun Run this year wearing a T-shirt with former President George W. Bush’s picture on it and the caption “Miss Me Yet?” He is not afraid to change his mind or speak it; he has courage in his convictions, and he loves a good debate.
He is a straightforward guy, so when he asked me, “Aren’t you glad that the country is moving in a national socialist direction under President Obama?” I was shocked. I asked him why he would think that I would like the country to move toward socialism and why he thought it was doing so. He responded that he felt it was clear, primarily because of nationalized health care and all the power and influence the unions were getting under this administration, among other points. And since I was such a strong union supporter and lifetime firefighter, he assumed I and my fellow firefighters must support socialism.
I don’t support socialism. American firefighters and our union would never support socialism—ever.
To me, socialism refers to a socioeconomic system in which, economically, the ownership of industry and the distribution of wealth are determined by the state or by agents of the state. I think of National Socialism in Germany and Russia under Hitler and Lenin, totalitarian states that denied personal freedom to their citizens.
American firefighters—career, volunteer, paid on call, union and nonunion, Democrat and Republican—are first and foremost Americans. We place our trust and fidelity in God, family, and country, in that order. We affirm that our freedoms come from God—not man and certainly not from the government. We agree with Thomas Paine that society and all its good come from our wants, and government comes from our evils. We do what we do because we choose to do so, not because anyone tells us we have to. We are American capitalists; we swore to protect and defend the constitution, and we are proud of that fact.
The reason we need to clear up this misperception is twofold: First, we will defend our personal liberties granted us by God and expressed in our constitution with our lives; and second, union membership does not make you a socialist. We choose to join our unions; if the union does something we don’t like, we can vote to change it or quit. Being a union member is a choice, and the union works hard to maintain our trust.
American firefighters from the beginning have been active in protecting American freedoms. There is nothing more fundamental to our American way of life than free speech and free association—they are fundamental to preserving liberty. The fire service has a responsibility to defend the constitution as much as we have the right to associate freely with our unions. We have an effective and powerful service, mainly because we are free to criticize our government, our union, and our leaders. We can and do speak our minds.
Many firefighters don’t know whom to thank for this freedom, but his name was Benny Bache. Benny’s grandfather died in 1790, leaving Benny a printing press as his inheritance. Benny decided to start his own newspaper in Philadelphia, calling it the Aurora. Luckily for Benny, in 1791 the Bill of Rights was officially adopted, and its first provision was that Congress should make no law abridging freedom of speech or of the press. Lucky, because Benny really disliked old George Washington. He accused Washington of wasting public funds, nepotism, and treating the office of the presidency more like a monarchy. Lots of folks thought Washington didn’t run for a third term because of Benny.
After Washington came John Adams. Benny disliked Adams, too. Benny called Adams old, querulous, bald, and toothless because Benny believed strongly that the press had a duty to inform the citizenry if the government was not acting in accordance with the constitution. Benny wrote about Adams’s secret plan to have close presidential races decided in private, without voters’ knowledge or consent, and his passion for being treated in a manner befitting the king of America. This infuriated Adams.
Those who supported Adams wrote horrible things about Benny, including Abigail Adams, wife of the president. She wrote that Bache was a lying wretch, adding that his abuse leveled against her husband’s administration could plunge America into civil war. Because of all the bad written about Benny, he was attacked and seriously beaten. In very poor fashion, John Adams gave the attacker a diplomatic job in France.
But Mrs. Adams still wasn’t satisfied. She pushed her husband to stop the bad press he was getting, and in 1798 the Sedition Act was passed, violating the First Amendment by restricting the press. Benny Bache was arrested before the Act even became law; his bail was set at a phenomenal $4,000. Other publishers who had dared print any opposition to Adams were also arrested and imprisoned.
But Adams underestimated the American public. Restricting free speech made them very angry, and they rallied by the hundreds to support Benny by subscribing to the Aurora. Americans came to Benny’s aid solely because they realized that the government was trying to shut down private citizens’ freedom of speech. Adams had made a serious mistake, forgetting that the American public would demand the truth.
Benny died of yellow fever shortly after posting bail; he was 29 years old. His struggle led to Jefferson’s winning the Presidency. One of his first official acts was to pardon all the publishers arrested under the Sedition Act and affirm that a free press would always be an American institution. Oh, and one more reason firefighters should know this story? Benny’s full name was Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of America’s first firefighter, Ben Franklin.