Today’s Courier Herald Column:
There’s a story about a mother who was never satisfied with her child’s accomplishments. He continued to rack up the trophies, credentials, positions and awards. The mother always wanted more.
One day, as he was being inaugurated as President, she leaned down from her seat to the man next to her and pointed at her other son, sitting behind the man taking his oath of office. She said to him “You see that man sitting behind the one being sworn in? He’s a Doctor…”
We’ve all known “that person”. Perhaps it was a bitter ex. Maybe is was an overly doting parent. It could be many of our friends. It is the person who responds to any and all accomplishments that someone else did something better. That the one doing marvelous things somehow still needs to try harder.
Sometimes the motivation is to put the person down and belittle them. Other times it’s to keep egos in check. More often it is with the intent to keep the person looking forward, to continue to strive for greater things rather than to rest on his or her laurels.
And it is with that spirit that I again look back to the Founding Fathers and the country they created for us over two centuries ago. The fireworks are over, the Barbecues are mostly done. The Fourth of July has passed, but celebrating the accomplishments of America – and our related responsibilities – will carry on.
One of the significant things about the Fourth of July was that it was not an ending but a beginning. There was much work to be done between declaring independence from England and setting up our current government. Enough that it took two tries over 14 years before George Washington was sworn in as our first President.
Even then, with all the accomplishments of our founders, there was still work to be done. Slaves were originally not considered all men who are created equal. Many of the founders were in fact slave owners. Women have only had the right to vote for less than a century. Many of our civil rights laws have only been in place for less than 50 years. All “men” being equal has been an evolving concept throughout our history.
There are occasionally movements afoot to remove the names of our founders from buildings and institutions because of their imperfections as judged by contemporary society. There are those that want to minimize the accomplishments of the founders because their results were imperfect and incomplete.
To do this, they must overlook the work that created the framework and intellectual infrastructure that remains the underpinnings of the modern free world. The Constitution nor our system of government can be considered perfect. It is, after all, by the people and for the people, all of us greatly imperfect.
But it is a framework that brings the imperfect together under a system that promotes freedom. It balances the needs of the collective with the rights of the individual. It is a system that is simultaneously rigid and flexible. It is a system that has grown as we have grown, with the power still remaining with the people as they choose to exercise it.
If there is a finger to point for fallibility of our system of government, it is not to the founders but to ourselves. The framework is there, but the use of it is up to us. Our participation, our understanding, our exercise of civic duty is a gift given to us from those who paid the price for it centuries ago.
If we are to continue celebrating independence, freedom, and our union of states as a great country, then we cannot rest on our laurels. Criticism is a fair and just part of the analysis of our state of government. That criticism must be used to propel us to do better, and to right the wrongs within our nation. Finding fault with the institutions, the processes, and those who govern us is not an excuse for lack of participation nor for ignorance of our responsibilities of self governance.