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Question of the day

Wednesday, Nov 28, 2007

* Bruce Ramsey of the Seattle Times had this to say in today’s column….

A few weekends ago, I was flown to the old Virginia House of Burgesses in Williamsburg to be a representative in a kind of assembly. McNeil/Lehrer Productions had chosen 47 people from around the country as part of a program on America in the 21st century. Each of us arrived with the thought, “Why me?” […]

The McNeil/Lehrer folks divided us into four groups to debate resolutions. They further divided us into twos to write the resolutions. My co-conspirator and I were assigned to write a definition of citizenship. In five minutes we came up with this:

Citizenship means to take responsibility for ourselves and our families so that we are not an unnecessary burden on others; to keep abreast of public questions, participate in public deliberations, to speak out when necessary and serve our country in time of need; to live exemplary lives and pass on our values and wisdom to the next generation.

That would be bland enough for unanimity, I thought. But I was wrong. I have read the italicized statement to several folks and asked them to pinpoint the offending clause. So far, none of the conservatives has been able to find it. Liberals see it right away. I think of it as a kind of litmus test.

The offending phrase is, “an unnecessary burden on others.”

That grated on the ear of Lisa Madigan, the Illinois [Attorney General]. It put an unfair onus on the acceptance of help. She moved that the words be taken out.

Question: How would you define “citizenship”?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Levois - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 10:13 am:

    I would say that citizenship is a responsibility. Not just to yourself but to others.

  2. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 10:18 am:

    Citizenship is the notion that we are members of a larger community and that we’re all in this together.

  3. - Ghost - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 10:21 am:

    Citizenship means the political rights of an individual within a society. Citizens should take responsibility for ourselves and our families by keeping abreast of public questions, watching public officials and the operations of government; participating in public deliberations, speaking out when necessary; serving our country in time of need; and most improtantly voting for public servants to protect and excercis our political rights.

  4. - fed up - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 10:44 am:

    Rich i like your definition. Unnecessary burden on others does not mean never accepting help. You can accept help when neccasary but dont live off the hard work of others forever.

  5. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 10:53 am:

    Citizenship regards the level of empowerment enjoyed by every native-born or naturalized human in relationship to our governments. In maintaining this contract, each citizen is empowered to voice their opinions and beliefs freely, especially during governmental elections. It is understood through tradition that a plurality of fairly counted votes dictates the choices between those who seek and hold public elected offices. It is understood that the spirit of the voters should be acknowledged and attempted to be implemented by the government. Each citizen is entitled to freedoms as defined by the Whole. These freedoms permit citizens the ability to create a family, provide for fiscal needs, choose social and business contracts, and maintain their relationship to God as they define those needs, without excess burden.

    In return, it is the responsibility of each citizen to defend the Whole. It is the duty of each citizen to pay taxes as defined by a citizen-empowered government, and to physically defend the community as defined. It is the responsibility of the citizen to live within these conditions as set by a citizen-empowered government.

    P.S. I have no problem with the statement made earlier regarding burdening others in that it includes the word, “unnecessary”. When we allow citizens to burden others at whim, they are not being good citizens. So Madigan is off her mark.

  6. - Anonymoose - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 10:55 am:

    Citizenship in the United States is a legal status, not an amorphous concept. You are either born into citizenship (like I was) or you acquire it through legal process (like my grandparents did). What each of us does with the blessings our citizenship and the rights that go along with it is up to the individual, subject only to the constraints of constitutionally valid laws and regulations.

  7. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 10:55 am:

    “fed up,” that’s not my definition.

  8. - ChgoMike - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 10:56 am:

    I agree with “fed up” and the “47th ward” comments. 41st ward here.

  9. - Vilhe Mechi - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 11:17 am:

    Vanilla, define “unnecessary”.

  10. - Lockproof? - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 11:20 am:

    Congrats to Bruce Ramsey. He just gave the US Senate a new question to ask Presidential appointees.

  11. - Sango Dem - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 11:27 am:

    Being a liberal I also noticed that they included nothing about serving others, except for a reference to “serving the country in times of need” which implies military service. I think its interesting that the people who wrote the resolution have such an individualistic mindset that serving the community around them didn’t even occur to them as part of citizenship.

  12. - Ghost - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 11:29 am:

    Sango Dem, how about if every citizen has the book “How to serve man” (twilight Zone)

  13. - yinn - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 11:33 am:

    As Anonymoose says, citizenship is a legal status. I believe we want to define it in other ways because our rights, so beautifully spelled out, seem to demand a complementary set of responsibilties. Discussing exactly what these responsibilities might entail is IMO an antidote to the current view that equates citizenship with consumerism. So good on you!

  14. - Sango Dem - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 11:38 am:

    Citizenship is the act of taking responsibility for what federal, state and local governments do in your name and being of service to your community.

  15. - Sango Dem - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 11:44 am:

    To explain my definition: accepting responsibility for what the government does in our name means a person will take action to change what the government is doing that they disagree with including engaging in public debate, voting, running for office and so on.

    The individualistic conservative mindset that government is a foreign entity we should despise is good for getting people angry but it spreads a kind of cynicism that discourages public involvement in government.

  16. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 12:08 pm:

    I agree that “citizenship” can be narrowly defined as to one’s legal status, but in any society, being part of a collective group brings some role to the table (unless it’s a narcolepsy ward).

    I would add “and community” after country. I can see both Lisa’s point about stigmatizing those who are in need of help for asking for it, while also recognizing that dependency for dependency’s sake is a sign of lazy citizenship and a drain on society. I think that Lisa should have offered an alternative phrase instead of striking the offending phrase, if in fact that was the case.

  17. - Pat Henry - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 12:16 pm:

    “Unnecessary” - when people eat to obesity, smoke like chimneys and become sick as a direct result, and drink like fish and become a hazard to themselves and others, they are defining “Unnecessary Burdens” - they burden others financially and emotionally, and due to their inability to correct course when it is prudent to do so, the majority don’t and blame others for their failure,

  18. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 12:17 pm:

    So, Pat, would you take away someone’s citizenship for that?

  19. - Ghost - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 12:35 pm:

    Pat what you refer to is the physical perfection touted by Hitler in his Aryan nation. So people who have medical problems, chemical imbalnces as the result of different genetic makeup, mental health issues etc are unneccessary burdens?

  20. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 12:37 pm:

    Ghost, I think you hit the nail on the head of the whole point of that column. “Unnecessary” is an enormously subjective term in this context.

  21. - Crimefighter - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 12:43 pm:

    Well of course “an unnecessary burden on others” is offensive to liberals…they believe 100% in a welfare state. Sheesh.

  22. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 12:44 pm:

    Crimefighter, I think the point is, who are you to say what an “unnecessary” burden is?

  23. - Crimefighter - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 12:51 pm:

    No Rich, the point of “take responsibility for ourselves and our families so that we are not an unnecessary burden on others” … that is, we become self-reliant and don’t become dependent on the state if we can help it.

  24. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 12:53 pm:

    OK. So, is there an “or else” in there somewhere?

  25. - Leroy - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 12:58 pm:

    an “unnecessary” burden is one that can be avoided through personal responsibility.

    There is a reason we struggle with that.

  26. - Pot calling kettle - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 12:58 pm:

    I think we should also discuss what good corporate citizens are. Would conservatives like to discuss the burden corporations place on society when they pollute, hire illegal immigrants, push bad loans, demand tax breaks, encourage workers to sign up for medicaide, move jobs off shore, move headquarters off-shore to a PO Box,…

  27. - Anon - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 1:13 pm:

    Pot — corporations don’t actually exist as separate beings. They’re just a way of organizing people to perform certain functions. Citizenship in the proposed definition — taking responsibility for yourself — would mean not hiding behind a corporation, and acknowledging that you are the one who is doing whatever evil activity.

  28. - Justice - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 1:13 pm:

    That is a great question and your answer, as others here on the post, was excellent; and at a time when we must all be more vigilant about our freedoms and the state of our Union. I see a good citizen as a person who adheres to the rule of law, one who works for the common good, defends the rights of the whole, helps those unable to help themselves, and stays involved in the political process. A good citizen is a person of hope, action, and determination who leaves our world and it’s citizens better off than when we arrived.

  29. - Jake From Elwood - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 1:26 pm:

    Citizenship must include the active participation of some service to better one’s own society. It is not passive. Implicit in the word “service” is doing good that will benefit others. I suppose that whether or not a person is willing to take on another’s unnecessary burden is a key component of whether or not he or she is a good citizen.

  30. - Crimefighter - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 1:44 pm:

    There doesn’t need to be an “or else”, the statement as a whole is a goal to reach for every individual.

  31. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 1:53 pm:


    Think less “self reliant,” more “interdependent.” Self reliance is a fine quality, but doesn’t have much to do with citizenship.

    You can now proceed with welfare state comments…

  32. - cermak_rd - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 2:06 pm:

    I don’t believe being willing to serve the community is part of citizenship. If you make that a duty of citizenship, you remove the mitzvah from it because it is now a duty. I also don’t believe that military service is part of citizenship, after all roughly half of all citizens during WWII never went to war and were not draftable.

    In my view citizenship has no more responsibilities than to obey the laws enacted by the people in order to be one of the people who make the laws.

  33. - Fan of the Game - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 2:27 pm:

    Leroy has a great definition of “unnecessary burden.” We will all be burdens at some point in our lives, because things will happen that are out of our control. However, we should endeavor to be self-reliant as much as possible.

  34. - True Observer - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 3:25 pm:

    “to take responsibility for ourselves and OUR FAMILIES so that we are not an unnecessary burden on others”

    Once upon a time families took care of their own including their aged parents. The aged grandparent kept an eye on the grandkids and everything was peachy.

    Then the do gooders and the vote buyers showed up and the country has been going downhill ever since.

    So now at Dominick’s you can see people trying to get cash back on their food stamps and the aged grandparents living at tax payer expense in susidized senior citizen housing with all the extra social services to make life wonderful.

    And Lisa Madigan looks forward to another landslide little realizing or caring what mischief she has wrought and how many lives she has ruined because people weren’t made to care for themselves.

  35. - Joe D's cousin Ralph - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 3:58 pm:

    As the term “unreasonable burden” refers to problems that would arise out of failing to take responsibility for one’s self and one’s family obligations, it is curious that the liberals find it offensive. As written, it clearly does not encompass those who are in need because some tragedy has befallen them or are unable to meet their obligations due to some disablity. Perhaps examining the consistent and steady message of liberals conveyed to voters would be enlightening. They tell those who are irresponsible that government will bail them out or that the natural consequences of their irresponsible behavior are someone else’s fault or someone else’s mess to clean up. Why should they sweat their shortcomings given the fact that the rich are undertaxed, big Pharma is a menancing beast, and conservatives have way too large of a carbon footprint. Thus, all one needs to do to be a good citizen is vote for liberals. As for me, I think the definition hammered out by the columnist is a perfectly acceptable one.

  36. - Sango Dem - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 5:15 pm:

    “Unreasonable burden” is an escape clause for conservatives. When other people benefit from government programs its unreasonable. Whey they themselves take advantage of government programs then its reasonable.

  37. - with liberty for all..... - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 7:48 pm:

    Today, I sense that society has an overall sense of entitlement and a lack of personal responsibility. I read here where being an “unnecessary burden” seems to be defended so strongly as to make it a right of individuals. Disagreeing with the rights of individuals to be unnecessary burdens does not mean advocating taking away someone’s citizenship, it is the difference between a good citizen and some other citizen. I agree wholeheartly that an individual who needs temporary help should receive some assistance. However, when there is no shame in receiving assistance what will prevent the individual from going back for help repeatedly. It seems to me if there is some shame in receiving assistance that would be a motivator to be self-reliant. I would also, I hope, grow a sense of obligation to give back to society in a form of charity. What that charity would be is determined by the one giving, but hopefully giving back to the society that helped earlier.

    Replying to comments about taking away citizenship, no don’t. What you as an individual do with your citizenship reflects your character and others will notice. Others will chose to employ you, conduct business with you, etc. if you are perceived as a good citizen. The definition as written is defining a good citizen. I like it.

  38. - Way Northsider - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 11:09 pm:

    Good citizenship has to have in it some sense of service - being responsible not only for yourself and your family but vigilant about the rights and well being of others. It also means keeping an eye on government - WE the people should make sure THEY serve US, not the other way around. We need to defend the constitution here at home, take care of those in need and reach out to those we do not see eye to eye with. If that is what the author of the definition meant by defending the country, I am with him but I suspect that is not what he had in mind. He probably meant some much more literal defense of the US. In my mind, I need to love my country all the time and my government when it deserves to be loved. I believe the prolific Mark Twain said something close to that although it is not an exact quote.

  39. - phocion - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 7:46 am:

    Citizenship is the right - no, the duty - to go online, adopt a ridiculous pseudonym, and villify public servants whether deserved or not.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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