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Common sense and respect for and from government

Posted July 10, 2011, at 8:48 p.m.

We all have our little ways of coming in contact with the government of our United States, the country to which we pledge allegiance and stand ready to serve as needed, when needed.

We expect much of our country and of those who run it on a daily basis, from the president down to those who hold the authority to determine who may or may not be allowed to enter it.

Last week, we celebrated the 235th anniversary of the birth of our country. Of all we expect of it, I propose that we must never, never let our government and its bureaucrats lose sight of common sense as they seek to protect us from ourselves.

The same 235 years past saw the publication of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense.” His introduction began, “Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.”

Before 9/11, the bureaucratic functionaries of our government could often be accused of failing to use common sense. For the most part, we sat back in a state of benign neglect and life went on.

I penned this column on July 4 out of shear frustration of the casting asunder of common sense by our bureaucracy.

Yes, 9/11 has changed the way we live as Americans today. Yes, some of the changes are needed for our collective protection even if we find them to be inconvenient.

No, we cannot benignly allow our government to forgo its use of common sense. The evening news is regularly bringing forth a story of another indigent treatment of a United States citizen in the guise of national security.

Paine observed, “Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected, and in the event of which, their affections are interested.”

What happened to me the morning of July 4 was certainly personal but yet is, I fear, universally representative of the lack of common sense in our governmental bureaucracy.

Being less than a mile from the U.S. Canadian border, I found that I needed to visit a friend 2 miles on the other side of the border. My problem began when I realized that my wallet with my identification, including my Nexus card, for which I had paid the government $75, had been left at home, some 25 miles away.

Years ago, I worked at this Customs office where I would need to re-enter the country. I stopped to tell the officer, actually there were two on duty, of my situation. I have entered the country at this port at other times with the same officer being on duty. This is not a terribly busy port although on a holiday it might have up to 200 cars pass through it in an eight-hour shift.

I was told I would have to have identification to get back into the country. I again explained my situation and suggested that I would be easily recognizable in the same car in another 10 minutes.

Again, I was told I would have to have identification to get into America. There seemed to be a disconnect in a line of common sense that if I was already in America I should be able to return to the country of my birth in 10 minutes. I certainly could have been searched upon my return. My name, address, date of birth and Social Security number could have been run in the multimillion dollar computer system they have to protect us from ourselves.

When I suggested a common sense review of the situation, I was told that did not matter, I had to have identification.

To me, common sense does matter. I want to be able to respect my government and I want it to use common sense. The two go together today as they did in 1776.

Richard L. Rhoda is an attorney in Houlton.

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