Early leaders of country were often anonymous

Published 12:01 am Sunday, May 1, 2011

Wouldn’t the world be such a nicer place if everyone stood at attention at a snap of your fingers?

Of course, that level of power would almost quickly turn bad in human hands.

As Lord Acton once said, “All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Feelings of moral superiority and corrupting power seem at the heart of one of the more baffling moves of the Adams County Board of Supervisors in recent years.

In a unanimous vote last week, our county’s highest office holders sought to request a clear change to the U.S. Constitution, one of the very things that they swore to uphold when they took the oath of office.

Supervisors voted to urge state legislators to draft a bill to outlaw anonymous “bloggers” — or anyone else who comments online without signing their name.

Obviously, such a law would not hold up in the federal court system. The ability to speak one’s opinion — anonymously or otherwise — is protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment.

And thank God for that.

The First Amendment is the single most important law of our land. It’s the cornerstone of our republic.

Some people may forget that anonymous commenting was prominent in our nation’s early history. Thomas Paine penned “Common Sense” anonymously. Future U.S. President James Madison, future Supreme Court Justice John Jay and future cabinet member Alexander Hamilton anonymously wrote the Federalist Papers between 1787 and 1788. That series of letters helped sway public support for the U.S. Constitution.

Yet, in Adams County — if the supervisors have their way — we’d abolish the practice.

Although supervisors created arbitrary “straw man” victims to support their cause, the simple fact is that it’s their own hides they’re worried about.

The whole matter is a tad ironic.

Last year, supervisors were slapped by the state ethics board for violating the state’s open meetings laws by meeting in secret in 2009.

Secret words uttered behind closed doors are OK if you’re an elected official, but secret words, particularly critical of an elected official, should be banned.

This argument is nothing new. One supervisor berated me about the issue in a meeting with several community leaders. Like the conversation that occurred last week in the board meeting, this supervisor said the issue wasn’t about people criticizing him, but people criticizing and personally attacking his family members.

I agreed with him. Family members of elected officials shouldn’t be subject to public attack. I pulled out my phone and said, “Let me know what story those were on, and I’ll take those comments off right now.”

Sadly, when pressed, this elected county leader admitted that he had not seen the comments himself, but that he’d “heard” they existed.

I could never find them, and he never took me up on my request that he help me find them so I could take them down.

Online commenters — even anonymous ones — are not by nature evil. Are some of them rude and ill tempered? Sure. They’re human.

Even if I don’t agree with what some commenters write, I believe they have a right to express an opinion.

Of course, I’m used to living in a world that I don’t control and answering to higher power, thankfully not the Adams County Supervisors.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.