Almost every country in the world sets aside a day to celebrate its heritage and history. For the United States, that day is the Fourth of July. For Americans, the Fourth of July represents more than a day to celebrate culture and heritage; it’s a day to remember some of the higher ideals — like freedom and democracy — that motivated its founding fathers to form the nation. America’s first president, George Washington, once said, “As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.” It’s perhaps a bit ironic that, given the fact that he used the term “liberal,” George Washington might have a difficult time getting elected president in the current political climate.
Amidst our celebrations I would hope that we would look for those things that we cherish in common rather than the issues that divide us. Someone once said, “Liberty is the right to choose. Freedom is the result of the right choice.” The implication, of course, is that we can make wrong choices. Millions of people around the world are suffering because wrong choices have been made in the past. Albert Camus asserted, “Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.” Unfortunately, freedom also allows us to be worse. Extremely hard choices must be faced in the days and years to come. They are choices that will affect the futures of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. We need to choose leaders with the courage and good sense to address them. We haven’t done all that well in the past.
On 7 March 1985, midway through Ronald Reagan’s tenure and president, a conservative columnist with libertarian leanings named Charlie Reese wrote a column for the Orlando Sentinal entitled “Looking For Someone To Blame? Congress Is Good Place To Start.” During the last presidential election, the column was widely distributed by Tea Party advocates. Despite Reese’s conservative leanings, the column takes swipes at both sides of the aisle. Reese wrote:
“Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them. Have you ever wondered, if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, Why do we have deficits? Have you ever wondered, if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, Why do we have inflation and high taxes? You and I don’t propose a federal budget. The President does. You and I don’t have the Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does. You and I don’t write the tax code, Congress does. You and I don’t set fiscal policy, Congress does. You and I don’t control monetary policy, the Federal Reserve Bank does. One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one President, and nine Supreme Court justices equates to 545 human beings out of the 300 million are directly, legally, morally, and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.”
Reese was correct as far as he went; however, laying off the blame on those who were elected lets those who elected them avoid blame too easily. In the nearly three decades since Reese first penned his column, things haven’t gotten any better — and voters are to blame as much as politicians. In one of his plays, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” During this celebration of the Fourth of July, Americans should recommit themselves to shoulder the responsibility that freedom places on their shoulders. In doing so, we needn’t be mean-spirited nor cold-hearted. There are still those to whom we must reach out. Greatness lies in rising to challenges, not shirking from them. I believe America remains a great nation. Happy Fourth of July!