BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Ralph Waldo Emerson, America’s quintessential philosopher, famously said, “If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mouse trap than his neighbors, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”
While Emerson’s philosophical and literary contributions to American society were much broader than this simple quote, the truth found at the core of this mid-19thcentury Emerson statement embodies at once the American spirit, the American experience and the finite frailty of American exceptionalism.
Nearly a century before Emerson’s observation, according to Rick Atkinson’s new book, The British Are Coming, June 1773 saw King George III celebrating his reign over the greatest, richest empire since ancient Rome. Less than two years later, after a series of provocations, the king’s soldiers took up arms against his rebellious colonies in America. Atkinson’s book details that the war would last eight years and though at least one in 10of the Americans who fought for independence would die for that cause, the prize was valuable beyond measure: freedom from oppression and the creation of a new republic.
The concept of a better book, a better sermon and a better mousetrap had been achieved by the new republic. The new government was a shining beacon on a hill and was a celebrated form of government not so much for the individual rights retained as for the manner in which the collective rights of the electorate were served by the balanced powers of three branches of government, each individually existing of, by and for the people.
The transformation from what existed to what exists today was both foreseeable and preventable. Our founding fathers knew that there would be a struggle between the branches of government.
The unanticipated factor was the abdication of civic responsibility by the citizenry. Because citizens have shirked their duty to protect their own interests and fail to diligently exercise the power of the people, nefarious influences have energized groups that have no regard for the common good of our nation and the families that inhabit it.
In Oklahoma, where tens of thousands lack access to health care, life expectancy rivals Third World countries, student college debt is at all-time highs, mental health goes untreated and public education is perpetually underfunded, rural infrastructure and fire protection is virtually ignored, there is a fundamental failure of our government to protect citizens from powerful interests that profit from the perpetuation of these conditions.
Oklahoma’s Founding Fathers recognized that government could become self-serving and gave us the initiative petition. Exercising the right to vote in all elections and the power of petitioning for ballot initiatives is the only way to curb the organized power of corporate interests, the partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts, the suppression of the right to vote, and the dangers of excessive financial influence in campaigns.
Addressing these four issues directly is a step toward restoring a model of a “better mouse trap” that will benefit all of our citizens.
– Chickasha Democrat David Perryman represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House and serves as minority floor leader