In the city of my youth (Milwaukee), celebrations were planned at every local park. Suspenders and Dixieland hats with a red, white and blue sash were optional. Ice cream came in plastic cups to be eaten with wooden spoons, sold by men on big three-wheel bicycles. The smell of grilled sausages and bratwursts lingered in the air. And it would remain that way until nightfall, when the sky would erupt with fireworks.
But there was something more than all that, the big bands, long parades, and holding tightly to quarters emblazoned with patriots. It might have felt like more because the price of freedom was still fresh in our minds as people were fighting for peace at home or for the nation halfway around the world. It all took a toll.
The country had some challenges ahead, but also felt young and unweathered.
Two hundred years didn't seem like such a long time. As a country, we had barely finished crawling. If you asked anyone back then whether they would fight the American Revolution all over again, no had to wonder where a majority might fall. The spirit of the Declaration Of Independence was intact.
Our country still counted freedom and liberty among our greatest virtues. We all saw it as the lifeblood of everything — the probability that with education or opportunity or persistence, we could either land a job after graduation or start a computer company out of a garage, which someone incidentally did in 1976. Sometimes it was hard work to make it happen, but mostly the only people in our way was us.
Less than four decades later, it isn't so clear cut anymore. For all the virtues of a majority rule that has encroached on our fragile representative government, we adopted a notion that freedom is as simple as a choice. But freedom isn't a choice. It's about having choices. We haven't been making great ones.
More than that, it seems the United States has grown too accustomed to the notion that we are somehow rotten as a people. And as a result, we must somehow feel forever in debt to this national guilt. The terms of payment are clear. Every year, we're asked to give a little more of our freedom and pay a little more for the dwindling amount of freedom that remains. The irony is that government administers the demand and collection of debt, even though it and not the people are responsible.
The quality of the choices we make today will dictate the quantity of choices we make tomorrow.
A few people who have read this space for as long as I've been writing it recently asked me why I haven't covered the usual communication suspects that have surfaced in the news. Some of them figured it was related to my recovery, but that's not it. It's about my heart.
While my head still sees communication challenges and how this or that needs to be handled, my heart isn't into taking on the ugliness that holds our country hostage to guilt. There are better topics than this:
ignorance is more deserving of our pity than punishment. Worse, by continually reinforcing that various segments of our country have ties to racism is counterproductive as it casts all Americans with European heritage as racists and all Americans with an African heritage as victims. While it's convenient to think so in this fog of political guilt, 5 percent of the men who gave their lives at Bunker Hill were African-Americans. They were heroes not victims.
It seems to me if there is any debt to be paid on July 4, it ought to paid by honoring the thousands of African Americans who fought not alongside patriots but as patriots during the American Revolution. We might even start with Crispus Attucks, a hero of the Boston Massacre. Americans didn't care that Attucks was African American when he was shot. They only cared he was a colonist like them.
celebrity is the least important part of the story. Although it amazes me to some degree that political factions on the right and left can find common ground on what is being cast as a national security issue, the real story is the extent of arbitrary searches, seizures and the collection of data by the government. Both sides whittled away at the Fourth Amendment for more than 10 years.
While some Americans feel additional security is warranted, the cost is too high in terms of freedom and fiscal expense. It might be argued that short-term measures were reasonable during a state of war, but it also seems infinitely suspicious that any regime would call for a perpetual state of war readiness to justify a permanent invasion of privacy. The greater threat to public safety is that for every dollar the federal government collects to snoop, we have one less dollar for local public safety like firefighters.
national health care based on a "free" soundbite. George Washington once said that if freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we would be led like sheep to the slaughter. There is a similar fate for those who vote without making comprehension compulsory. As a nation of news snackers who prefer affirmation and popularity over objectivity and complexity, we don't always understand the depth of the issues we form opinions about.
People pick their sides. So writing about Obamacare spin on both sides seems futile to me, especially when more important topics are missed: what can we do to stop killing bees, why are genetically modified foods becoming more prevalent (avoid them), and how to fix the primary care physician shortage. Right. It's much easier to discuss guilt over soda size than topics that affect us.
Have fun in the name of freedom. And please change the subject.
In 1976, the country wasn't perfect but what we wanted seemed pretty simple. We wanted a little elbow room to enjoy our definition of happiness and one day a year to appreciate the 2.5 million people (less 10-20 percent loyalists) who put their lives on the line for freedom (and everyone else afterward).
Many of our children may want something like that someday too. With the cost of education eclipsing the cost of a starting a small business, it's anybody's guess if they will. As for me, I'd rather think about heroes and how to help them — patriots (of every race), firefighters, doctors, and honey bees — than the topics served up by social and traditional media. Maybe you would like to help me change the subject too. The press can have Deen, Snowden and Obama. Good night and good luck. Have fun and be safe.