Wendell Phillips said (though the quote is often mistakenly attributed to Thomas Jefferson), that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." Phillips reminded people that they must be vigilant in making sure that the democrat (small "d") does not turn into a despot.
That quote is not only a warning, but a command to the people to exercise their power, for in our representative republic, the people, and not the government, provide the power to those entrusted with its exercise. If the citizenry is frivolous in their trust and their vigilance, the citizenry creates the despots it cries against. The citizenry become sheep for the slaughter on the altar of unbridled power.
I am constantly amazed that we have forgotten that the United States Constitution is but a limited grant of power by the people to the government. Our rights as citizens are natural rights granted by our Creator (and I personally don't care if you believe that Creator to be the Judeo-Christian God or Mother Nature). Without the consent of the people, our government would not exist. Without the consent of the people, our government will cease. The sovereignty of the United States, far from being the "divine right of kings," exists only as a social contract of free and independent beings not beholden to any power, but those who willingly grant power to others to form a more perfect union, provide for the general welfare, preserve the blessings of liberty, ensure domestic tranquility, establish justice, and provide for the common defense.
The Constitution does not grant liberty, but preserves it. Those who are bothered by the libertine actions of a few would do well to remember that, without protecting the libertines, we lose our liberty. My father, a veteran of World War II, used to say, "I may not like what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." He and a whole generation fought to preserve that which we may least like. They fought for the right to be free, to be left alone, to succeed or fail on our own merit, to worship and assemble as we see fit; they fought to protect a nation whose government answered to the people, and not the other way around.
Thomas Jefferson said he would much rather be bothered by too much liberty than too little. Thomas Jefferson was a man who picked and chose his favorite passages, and created and carried his own bible. Benjamin Franklin was a Deist. George Washington (as were countless other founding fathers) was a member of that mystical society of Freemasons. All of these men understood and practiced their freedom of conscience, and let others do the same. That is the exercise of true power, and the essence of liberty, our birthright. These men fought a revolution to guarantee us that birthright.
Perhaps we have given away our power because we don't want the responsibility. Perhaps we don't mind being the automatons of an institutional government headed toward total control of our bodies and our minds, for then we don't have to suffer the cost of our mistakes. Perhaps, rather than reveling in the promises of our choices, we would rather accept the mediocrity of the choices made for us. If that isn't what we want, we must return to our source of power, and reclaim it. It lies within us. With our power come costs and great responsibility. Eternal vigilance is but one of those costs. The benefits of maintaining our liberty and our power far outweigh the costs, however, for we can once again each soar to greater heights than ever imagined. The only way to reclaim our dignity and our birthright is for each individual to look in the mirror, demand his or her power back for himself and for others, and claim, "I am responsible."
Of course, the final arbiter of the power of government, and the protector or our civil liberties, is the Supreme Court of the United States. The Senate is responsible for confirming Justices to that Court who will be responsible for the preservation of what the Creator has granted. I pray that our Senate remembers the grant of power that we have made to them, and that they ensure that Judge Sotomayor will be eternally vigilant in her role as an Associate Justice. Should she not be able to guarantee our rights, should she have forgotten that the power of our government is limited, should her ideology, if any, blind her to the needs of the greater good as envisioned by our founding fathers, she should be rejected. Should the Senate fail, then we as citizens must exercise our power and replace the Senate. I cherish the liberty, and the power, granted to me, and will happily defend it.
Though I never fought in battle, I proudly and humbly wore the uniform of a soldier. I honor the true heroes, who, through the ages, have protected our liberty, and those who have protected us from enemies within. The decisions to be made in the future by the exercise of our power must not be taken lightly. If we are to survive as a nation of free individuals united by a common purpose, we must be awakened by the wisdom of the ages, and set forth boldly on a mission to restore and maintain that which we hold sacred, no matter the costs.