Thursday, March 10, 2011

Caroline "Speaks Out"

On Journalism...
I'm learning that journalism encompasses so many different things. When I think of journalism, I generally think of popular television personalities like Bill O'Reilly, Keith Olbermann and Katie Couric. I often make the mistake of gathering my "news" from entertaining commentaries rather than traditional, unbiased sources. I'm learning, though, that journalism is meant to be a profitable art that engages citizens and others in truth. Although polarizing commentaries seem to be the norm in today's culture, journalism is about pursuing truth and reporting facts so that people can make educated decisions about their lives and their government. And people can choose to get their news from various sources. Today, journalism takes shape on television, radio and the internet and in newspapers and magazines. With user-friendly technology available 24/7, journalism is always on-the-go.

This American flag hangs in a corridor that extends from the Capitol Rotunda. Directly behind the flag is the Speaker's balcony that overlooks Washington, D.C.

On Democracy...
Democracy: a government that derives its power from its citizens. A democracy ought to reflect the will of the governed. I've learned a great deal about democracy, having lived in the U.S. all of my life. I appreciate the rights I possess and the freedoms I express daily. However, a democracy is about so much more than just elections. Although electing officials to represent the public's interests is part of the process ("election politics"), people have the freedom to take action and to evoke change in their communities independent of the government. In a sense, government should be limited in a democracy so it doesn't infringe upon the lives of its people. My thoughts on government fall in line with those of John Dewey who believes the public's participation in government is the key to a vibrant democracy. Unlike Walter Lippmann, Dewey and I have faith in the public's ability to be prudent and to make responsible decisions about the laws that govern them. An elite group of government leaders doesn't have to do that for people. Rather, representatives exist to implement laws on behalf of the people.

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." -Voltaire

On the First Amendment...
The First Amendment protects five of the most important American rights. The First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." To me, the freedoms of religion and speech are important in particular. Living in a country where I can worship my God without fear of being persecuted is something for which I'm grateful. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon to hear of missionaries who have been killed spreading their Christian beliefs in foreign nations. The freedom of religion is often connected to the freedom of speech. It allows me to speak my mind, share my opinions and not worry about receiving backlash from an all powerful government. The freedom of speech reinforces the notion that government reflects the will of the people.

On Diversity...
Diversity is a hot topic on college campuses and in society today. Diversity in religion, speech, press, assembly and petition are essential to democracy because it reflects the myriad cultures, customs and values that exist. America is known to be a "melting pot" of people groups, traditions and ideals, so it's important to have a government that respects different beliefs and is proud of different backgrounds. Every day, journalists ensure that diverse voices are incorporated in the marketplace of ideas. Stories of achieving the "American Dream" are showcased on television and reports of injustice ignite debate among national, state and local leaders. Because the Constitution guarantees "liberty and justice for all," news of injustice and inequality brings attention to the issue of diversity. When I think about how I may have experienced diversity in my own life, I am thankful that I live in a nation that allows people to express their individuality. America is full of interesting people who contribute to society in unique ways. Ultimately, diversity sheds light on others' personal experiences and makes the U.S. a stronger country.

Why does a democracy need journalism and the First Amendment?

The U.S. Capitol symbolizes freedom and democracy and serves as a reminder of the ideals and the principles upon which the nation was founded.
President Abraham Lincoln captured the true essence of democracy when he stated that government should be “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Lincoln understood, even in 1863, that a strong, effective democracy derives power from its citizens. I believe the same truth applies to American democracy today, but many people feel powerless to evoke change or unable to challenge government elitists. As government authority continues to expand, the laws of the land gradually become less reflective of the will of the people. What “check” do people really have on government? Who acts as an advocate on behalf of the interests of the people? 
Emerging as a solution to the vast disconnect between the democratic public and the government, journalists assume the task of supplying people with the latest “news.” Although journalism takes myriad forms, the pursuit of truth is a premise that resonates throughout mainstream media outlets. Citizens often rely on journalists to report facts, to investigate government actions and to help them make educated decisions regarding government affairs and policies. For this reason, journalists became known as “government watchdogs.” A resilient democracy needs journalists to expose corruption, enabling the public to hold their elected officials accountable.

At one time, Walter Cronkite, former host of the CBS Evening News, was regarded as the "most trusted man in America." Cronkite established a standard of excellence in journalism that attracted millions of viewers.

For journalism to function properly in a democratic society, though, federal laws must protect certain principles and freedoms. Behind the armor of the First Amendment, journalists can wage their wars without restraint or fear or repercussions. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Legally permitting journalists to support or to chastise government leaders and their actions on a public stage allows people to move closer to uncovering truth. 
The founding fathers possessed a clear vision of what democracy ought to be, and the freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights are the cornerstone of American democracy. Most of all, democracy needs people. People need journalism. Journalism needs democracy. Each part must do its job so government can carry out its proper role, the exercise of the will of the people.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Defenders of American Freedoms

I had the opportunity to meet Justice Alito last semester when his wife spoke at a ceremony orchestrated by UK's College of Law.

After spending the summer as an intern on Capitol Hill, I was able to meet Speaker Boehner at a political fundraiser.

The Middle East "Speaks Out"

The ideals of freedom and democracy seem to be spreading like wildfire in the Middle East. Since mid-January, civilians have been protesting the regimes of oppressive dictators in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. People have demonstrated boldness as they continuously "speak out" against their governments, planting a democratic seed in a traditionally autocratic region of the world. But, can this passion for liberty be sustained with few democratic institutions in place and with no real support from the world's most powerful democratic nation?

The transition from autocracy to democracy can be a dangerous, risky venture. The prospect of elections doesn't always guarantee genuine democracy. During a political science class I had at UK last semester, "Causes of War," I read that it may be necessary for a sequence of events to occur before the country can function successfully as a democracy: creation of a national identity, the institutionalization of a central government and the emergence of mass political parties and an electorate. Patriotism, political organization and respect for liberty are important aspects that give life to a vibrant democracy.  

As I think about the uprisings and transitions occurring in the Middle East, I am doubtful that peace and stability will prevail. News emerges daily about civilians' struggles to retain power and authority over their governments. To Americans, however, it is exciting to witness others fight for the freedoms our nation proudly promotes. Although violence plagues the lives of people in this region, a passion for democracy has been ignited and I (along with the rest of the world) will be watching to see if the flame is fanned.