Most would argue that a blog about the Declaration of Independence should have a special entry on July 4. Common sense dictates that the failure to do so is tantamount to a devout Christian blogger neglecting Christmas or Easter, or a sports enthusiast who blogs about football remaining silent on Super Bowl Sunday.
Why write today when I could be at a picnic? Well, the picnic comes later this evening. However, I will concede that recent events prompted this posting. As you know, President Obama recently broached his call for Congress to reform immigration policy in a speech full of curious assessments about American history and identity. For example, his comment that “being an American is not a matter of blood or birth” left me wondering if he had ever read the 14th Amendment. (It also made me wonder why a man facing unwavering opponents who question whether he is even a natural-born U.S. citizen would give political foes a stick to beat him with.) His roll call of American immigrant luminaries such as Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, and Andrew Carnegie completely ignored the fact those men came to the United States legally, and the issue at hand is illegal immigration. In addition, his examples of “rank discrimination and ugly stereotypes,” though undoubtedly accurate, failed to recognize that human waves of immigration flowed into this nation in spite of those difficulties because the fruits of the American dream of prosperity and freedom always outweighed the ugliness during another time in our history. Couple those comments in his speech with his famous rejection of American exceptionalism and I find myself today asking in earnest: Does the President of the United States, a man recently ranked as the 15th-greatest president in U.S. history, truly understand why today is different from any other day? (I will presume that he knows July 4 is a federal holiday.)
I am no fool. The chances are exceeding slim that President Obama and I will ever have a conversation, and I know for a fact that he is not subscribed to my blog. But in the best of all possible worlds I would tell him to please consider what the Declaration of Independence launched, a document that gave birth to the nation we celebrate today.
Our republic offers its people a nation that is freer, more individualistic, more dynamic, and more democratic than any other that has ever existed. Those attributes are the legacy of the Founders, the men and women of the Revolutionary Era who loved liberty, an idea based upon the proposition that freedom, reason, and morality can overcome humanity’s tendency toward limiting the rights and aspirations of our fellow man, and who created the first and best nation based on those principles. The result is a nation where a person can transform themselves and rise as far as talent, achievement, and hard work will allow.
Other nations have followed those principles, to be sure, but it is safe to say that our practices are example to the rest of the planet – an obvious reason why we are praised when we live up to those values, condemned when we don’t. No one has the same expectations of Zimbabwe, but the world does expect the United States to fulfill the exceptional promises made by George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. That fact alone proves that a belief in the unique contribution of the United States of America to the world is not narrow or chauvinistic, but the acknowledgement of a self-evident reality.
Lincoln, when defending his Emancipation Proclamation in midst of our Civil War from charges of hypocrisy and radicalism, told the world that our culture of liberty was our greatest gift to the planet. He wrote:
“Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.”
The world watches us because the people of this globe know we are unique. They expect that America will always be the exception to what humankind already knows: Liberty is fleeting, opportunity is rare, freedom is lacking – but not in the United States. Because of those facts, Mr. President, surely you and I can agree about why today matters.