“Obama is too measured and polite to say so, so I’ll say it for him,” Lynne K. Varner, a columnist for the Seattle Times, recently wrote. “Come mid-January, Republicans and Democrats ought to follow the president’s lead or simply get out of his way.”
Another commentator, Joy Behar, has called Barack Obama’s critics “unpatriotic.”
Over 59 million Americans voted for John McCain on November 4. Should we, as Varney suggests, get out of the way? Are we, as Behar claims, unpatriotic if we criticize the president-elect?
As a fifth great-grandson of Matthew Lyon, I turned to him for answers to these questions.
According to biographer James Fairfax McLaughlin, the British executed Lyon’s father after he engaged in a conspiracy against the British Crown. With his family reduced to poverty, Lyon came to America from Ireland in 1765 as an indentured servant when he was just 15 years old.
In this country, Lyon fought against the British, became a wealthy entrepreneur, and represented Vermont in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, he maintained a “loathing of monarchy and all arbitrary and centralized power,” which McLaughlin characterized as “inbred and almost fanatical.” This loathing ultimately led to a confrontation with President John Adams and the Federalists.
In a letter to Spooner’s Vermont Journal, a Federalist newspaper, Rep. Lyon explained why he rejected the “principle of Presidential infallibility.” He also noted that under Adams “every consideration of the public welfare” was “swallowed up in a continual grasp for power, in an unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice.”
After the Federalists passed the Sedition Act of 1798, Lyon established his own magazine, the Scourge of Aristocracy and Repository of Important Political Truth. In the October 1, 1798, issue, Lyon noted that when the president puts forth a proposition “injurious to my constituents and the Constitution, I am bound by oath … to oppose it; if outvoted, it is my duty to acquiesce—I do so. But measures I opposed [in Congress] as injurious and ruinous to the liberty and interest of this country … you cannot expect me to advocate at home.”
Because of his writings, Lyon became the first person imprisoned under the Sedition Act of 1798.
Barack Obama is not infallible. If he puts forth propositions injurious to the Constitution, we, like Matthew Lyon, have a duty to stand in the way. That’s the patriotic thing to do.