n 2002 I was running my first campaign for State Representative. I remember someone coming up to me at the Seneca 4th of July celebration and asked me what I thought about the repeal of the helmet law. I asked what do you mean? He asked, would you support repealing the law requiring motorcycle riders to wear a helmet?
I told him that I had ridden bikes in the past and always wore a helmet but if he wanted to risk leaving his brains on the road then that was his business. So, he asked, “you would vote to repeal the law?” I said I would. He remarked I will tell all my friends.
I won that first election by the wide margin of 82 votes (not exactly a landslide) and I have sometimes wondered how much of an impact that one conversation had. Fast forward during my first term and lo and behold, there was a bill to repeal the helmet law and I voted to do so.
I went back to my office and my assistant asked me if I knew what they had done in session (as if I wasn’t there). She said they voted to repeal the helmet law. I looked at her and said, “I know, I voted yes”. To which she just replied, “Oh”.
For the entire time I was in the House, whenever that bill came up I voted to repeal the law giving motorcycle riders the right to make their own decision. It wasn’t just because I made a promise but it was because I don’t believe the government should run every aspect of our lives.
I have heard all the arguments about cost to society for people who have wrecks not wearing helmets and also the argument about wearing seatbelts. Both of which I wear religiously. But, at the end of the day, it should be my choice and not because the government wants to prevent me from getting hurt.
In fact, during one of the debates on the helmet law a fellow lawmaker shared a snippet of wisdom that a former legislator had shared with him when he was first elected. He told him, “don’t pass laws that protect me from me.”
Before some of you get too bent, I think that minors absolutely need to wear helmets while on motorcycles and must be in car seats or buckled up. They are not old enough to make their own decisions but adults should be free to be stupid if it doesn’t hurt or put someone else in peril.
Last week I read a columnist write that “We often forget that government was instituted to protect and improve the lives of its citizens”. In my opinion they have a slanted view of the role of government.
Government exists to do things for us collectively that we cannot do individually. Hence, a national military, law enforcement, build infrastructure, schools, and so forth. I think you get the picture. And, many of the things government does improves our lives.
But, somewhere along the way people started expecting more and more from government and the burgeoning bureaucracy was only too happy to get bigger and bigger to protect their little “kingdom” and to protect people from themselves and to make their lives easier. Wrong, wrong and wrong.
Let’s look at the Preamble to The Constitution. It reads, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Read those words carefully and you won’t find anywhere that the government exists to make us happy, improve our lives or protect us from doing stupid things. Quite the opposite, government exists to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Liberty means we should be free to live our lives and yes, make poor decisions without the government protecting us from our right to do dumb things.
I think that this is the crux of the divide that exists between liberals and conservatives. These are generalizations and certainly don’t apply to everyone in both categories. But, (for the most part), liberals feel it is their responsibility to make things easier for everyone and to protect people from being “uncomfortable” (protect them from themselves). And, conservatives (for the most part) want the government to leave them alone and create an environment that lets them make decisions for themselves.
Hence the fight that goes on daily between those who want a “nanny state” protecting people from cradle to grave and those who want a “free state” that will let them live their lives and the risks and rewards that come with that. I guess you can figure out which camp I belong to.
Kevin Wilson is a former Missouri state representative, a consultant and writes a column for The Neosho Daily News