Today’s Courier Herald Column:
This week will mark the 236th birthday of the United States as an independent America. It’s time to celebrate a great country. While many of our national holidays are more somber or religious in nature, the Fourth of July is reserved for an unrestrained tribute to our forefathers who banded together in order to create an independent and free Republic.
We also pat ourselves on the back for continuing to maintain our country for another year as a model and beacon to others. For all of our problems and internal political squabbles, we must not forget the vast number of people throughout the world that would give virtually anything to enjoy the freedom and living standards provided by being a citizen of the United States of America.
Many if not most of us take our unique position in life and the world for granted. Most of us were born here. The price of this freedom was originally paid by brave ancestors who are long since gone. We are but their beneficiaries, living off dividends for investments long ago paid for.
Fewer and fewer of us actively participate in defending our freedom in the form of military service. We have an all volunteer military now, allowing a small few to continue to stand on the front lines to defend us from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Those few continue to pay a high price as we routinely send them overseas to places that look like God himself forgot for long periods of time. We rotate them in an out of these countries often enough that many are spending as much time deployed to the third world as they are at home filling the role of fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters.
The remainder of us here at home have the responsibility and duty to help maintain our form of government through the political process. We’ve frankly bungled that up a bit as of late. That’s O.K., as the framers of the Constitution knew people in large groups are quite fallible. And there are a lot more of us now as a country of 300 million strong.
The mistakes are not necessarily represented by the current gridlock that is now a permanent fixture in Washington. After all, those that originally set up our Republic wanted it to be very difficult for a central federal government to exercise or expand power. In some ways, it still is. In others, it is far too easy.
Much of the problem is that we are too far removed from the government which is by the people and for the people. We often look at the government as “them” and attempt to defend “us” from them. That’s not the proper relationship between a free people and those whom we elect to govern us.
Much of our identities with government are now tied with political parties and have only tangential roots in policy or philosophy. For those who don’t believe this to be the case, look at Republicans 180 degree turn on the idea of health care exchanges after they became part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, or look at Democrats rush to cut payroll tax cuts and extend the “Bush” tax cuts – twice – saying the economy couldn’t afford a tax increase and some even expressly saying the payroll tax cuts would boost the economy.
We have grown too comfortable with our elected officials giving us back what was already ours in exchange for giving them another term in office.
We have also allowed incumbents to continue to make it easier for them to be re-elected than to have to answer to the people. We have distanced ourselves from them, and allowed their continued insulation from us.
And yet, all is not lost.
America is made up of resilient people. We do know how to tackle problems, even if we do love to procrastinate until the moment we must act.
On the plus side, we are connected in ways that the founding fathers would have thought unimaginable two centuries ago. Internet, mobile devices, and other modern devices allow information to be disseminated quickly. Information in the hands of the public is ultimately the basis of a free people remaining free.
On this week of celebration, we can acknowledge the issues that face us as a Republic. We must also keep them in perspective. We have always faced challenges as a country. Be it world wars, a civil war, struggles for how to accommodate civil rights, or battling through a depression, we have always persevered.
It’s our birthday. Let’s choose not to focus on how much we’ve aged, but on the bright years ahead. Then next week, let’s get to work on what needs a bit of work.