“Have a happy Fourth of July,” he said.
“Have a good Independence Day,” I responded for the third time that day.
Because we forget forget too easily what Independence Day is about, how the United States of America was born, who we set out to be, and more importantly, who we have become.
We are urged each December to “remember the reason for the season,” which apparently is about crass commercialism and, seriously, why isn’t the Christmas merchandise out? It will be August soon.
As I watched fireworks on the horizon, miles away, mirrored by a lake under a white moon, the booming reports coming long after the showers of airborne sparks, I thought about the promise of America. If Christmas is about more than tinsel, then Independence Day is about more than fireworks.
I contemplated the divisions, the labels that define us today. Simplify, quantify, brand, ostracize, discredit and dehumanize to further an agenda. Liberal, conservative, independent, agnostic — whatever — we place each other in rigid boxes, defining others as if they were one-trick ponies. And yet, our day-to-day experiences are more than that. There’s more holding us together than pulling us apart. If that weren’t true, we would not still be standing after 241 years.
When an ice storm knocked my home out of power for 12 days in minus 15 degree weather some years back, it was my conservative-minded neighbor who was there the first day offering the use of a spare generator.
I have always had many conservative friends, and any one of them would give me the shirt off their back. Liberals would, too, if they weren’t usually topless and barefoot. In my case, public nudity should go not further than my toes. I don’t think we need laws to enforce it — smaller, less intrusive government, and all that — peer pressure should be enough.
Less intrusion. That’s a traditional conservative view that doesn’t align with policing bedrooms or regulating the reproductive systems of half the population. Those are religious dictates. Our constitution grants us freedom of religion and equally important, freedom from religion. If you’re concerned about Sharia Law, then you ought to be equally concerned about those among us using the Bible as a cudgel and justification for laws governing personal decisions.
Sure, I sometimes read the Bible. I also eat shellfish.
Barry Goldwater once said, “Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” They called him “Mr. Conservative.”
All true conservatives believe government is necessary. You can’t be a constitutionalist if you don’t. “A more perfect union,” by it’s very nature, is government at work. And that Second Amendment thing? Government, astonishingly, providing a check on government — with perimeters — “a well-regulated militia” being the key phrase.
The defining mission of a government or society is to pool resources to do what we cannot accomplish individually. (Interesting, isn’t it, that the word “socialism” is a derivative of the word society, and yet the construct of society is pragmatic, conservative, even, in nature.)
Public roads and bridges increase efficiency. Public education nurtures problem-solvers. Infrastructure and education are about maximizing the potential of all Americans. Everybody wins when everybody wins.
Businesses need efficient shipping corridors. We’ve come to depend upon a fast, stable information highway. Infrastructure is a great equalizer; it fosters healthy competition in a free market, and competition advances innovation and generally enhances our quality of life.
The greatest overseer of new infrastructure in modern times was Dwight Eisenhower, a conservative by any measure.
Without that social cooperation, you have the Law of the Jungle and, if it were such a good system, tigers would rule the world. It’s puzzling that some self-proclaimed conservatives believe in the Law of the Jungle but are puzzled by Darwinism.
Survival of the fittest is a legitimate concept, but we’ve been looking at this myopically. It’s less about individualism and more about the success of the species.
Sixty-five million years ago, some alpha Tyrannosaur may have been drinking Mai Tai’s at Club Rex, but when the climate changed — something to do with greenhouse gasses, I think — he followed the weakest of his species into the abyss. So, when some equate the pollution of our planet with freedom, it’s really mass suicide. Hello, lemmings.
Teddy Roosevelt, a conservative icon, was our greatest conservationist and a man who understood the dangers of monopolies. The words conservation and conservatism have the same roots. How have they become so disassociated?
Richard Nixon, another conservative, created the Environmental Protection Agency at a time when rivers were catching fire in America. He understood that we all live in the same fishbowl and that industry has to be balanced with sound environmentalism.
Imbalance in nature or economics, if you believe in history or science, is unhealthy and leads to collapse.
Today’s economic wedge between the top and the bottom mirrors one of the catalysts to our independence. We traded King George for President Washington and a Congress.
But today, money — “and corporations are people, my friend” — dictates policy at every level. We have a legalized system of bribery that disenfranchises those of more modest means. The best government money can buy. How’s that working out for you?
Although we won independence from royalty (and a state religion), royalty still exists in America in the guise of consolidated wealth. The top 1 percent in America own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. That’s why the estate tax and progressive taxation help mitigate bloat and stagnation.
Labor and ingenuity should be rewarded and wealth ought not be demonized, but it should be productive, so a higher tax rate that encourages and rewards investment in real job creation is logical and inherently conservative when you look beyond quarterly profits and take responsibility for the well-being of future generations. We boomed under Eisenhower, with a top income tax rate of 90 percent.
Some of you might want to sit down for this: Part of government’s role is redistribution of wealth. Or, you could call it balance, or even sharing, a concept we learn in kindergarten, yet struggle with as adults. We will always argue about how to slice the pie, but let’s at least acknowledge that it should be sliced in the interest of the species. Everybody gets fed.
To quote Bob Marley, “A hungry mob is an angry mob.” Economic imbalance — anything in nature that is top-heavy — eventually wobbles and crashes.
There are some basic foundations of a healthy society and, as a nation, we’ve decided that our government’s role is to defend, feed and educate its citizens and facilitate a sound fiscal policy. The latter is dependent upon wise generational decisions made with regard to the first three.
Society evolves, and it’s increasingly clear that today most Americans believe a baseline of health care should be part of the social contract. We’ve come to question the morality of a system in which the size of one’s pocketbook can make the difference between living and dying, the very morality of for-profit health care. I’m pretty sure no one had to pay a deductible when Jesus healed them.
When the cost of a doctor’s visit is insurmountable — there are kids to feed and mortgages to be met — minor ailments can become chronic. People die.
Affordable health care fosters prevention, and early treatment saves money and lives and increases productivity. That’s a pretty conservative concept — doing more with less. More than 17 percent of America’s gross domestic product is bogged down in health care. In Canada, it’s 11 percent.
Consider this investment — we transition to Medicare for All, which would ease overhead and increase profitability of American businesses. When workers are not tied down to a company health care plan, they become more mobile, more productive and can increase earning power. You know, that bootstraps thing.
Our system is inefficient, and inefficiency is anathema to conservatism. The reality is medical providers up and down the line are gouging, preying on vulnerable Americans.
Only when enough voices are heard will anything change. We have the ballot box (and corrupt, gerrymandered districts) but without responsible, active and informed citizenship and the willingness to engage, we abdicate power. In a democratic society, we all have responsibilities, rich and poor alike. When you look at the people we have elected, it’s impossible to deny that indifferent American citizens have failed themselves. We are frogs in the pot and the burner is on. Wake up, Kermit!
If ignorance is bliss, some Americans these days are positively orgasmic. Dismissing the importance of the Fourth Estate, while acknowledging the often obvious and glaring imperfections of journalists, is astoundingly shortsighted and undemocratic. Journalism is a counterbalance to power. Information is power. Journalists are critical to your freedom and your future.
Two and a half centuries ago, a confluence of enlightened, courageous minds who looked at the world’s greatest superpower and decided, “we can do better.” Today, we look anew at the latest superpower and see our own reflection. We’ve achieved much. But we can do better.
These are the things I thought about as flags flapped in the wind on July 4th, the smoke from grills wafting in the air, the shouts of children on the wind. Boats loaded with revelers passed with sunburns in the making.
It didn’t seem to matter if they thought of themselves as liberals or conservatives, I knew better; We’re all Americans.
© Tony Bender, 2017