You know the one. It's difficult and rather uncomfortable because you don't know just how much the people you are speaking with know.
Certainly you don't want THE look that comes with it. You know - rolling eyes, stifled yawn. Everyone looking to get out of the room. Uh oh! We're NOT going to talk about that, are we?!
Actually, yes. It's time to sit down for a very personal conversation about our family and our lives.
It's not THAT conversation.
This is the one about who we are as a nation. About what we believe, stand for, dream about, aspire to. Do we even do those things anymore? Or have we come to believe, as some politicians claim, that the "best days of our nation are behind us?"
I refuse to fall under that thought. When I am ever so tempted to think that maybe the naysayers of the US have a point, I find my strength by going back to the history of this nation. It is in the words, ideas and deeds of those who fought against taking a supposedly easier way that I know we are made of stronger stuff.
"Whilst the last members were signing [the Constitution], Doctor Franklin, looking towards the Presidents chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art, a rising, from a setting, sun. I have, said he, often and often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length, I have the happiness to know, that it is a rising, and not a setting sun."Source: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, debates in the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 17, 1787.James Madison, Journal of the Federal Convention
Throughout the fight to establish this nation: first in the Declaration of Independence, through the Revolutionary War and into the approval of the Constitution, it would have been much easier to give in to those who wanted to appease the British. Usually unknown to most students today, there was not unanimous support to fight the British. There was a large part of the population who thought things were fine just the way they were. Those who believed our country should remain with the British felt that there was too much risk in attempting to become an independent and free country. They were alright with being taken care by the King and his rules.
Yet, there was an equally large group of men and women, who today we call Patriots, who believed there was a better way. They argued that freedom and liberty were worth fighting for. They demonstrated that risks for a free society, which could determine its own course was far better than living under the thumb of an oppressive government that did what it wanted - with a King who enforced the laws he wanted and ignored the rules of law that were established.
So they fought. There was no assurance of victory. In fact, there was a greater chance they would fail and be killed.
They argued in ideas and ideals. They took up arms and, in the end, defeated the British because the ideals of freedom of opportunity and self determination are great driving forces in the spirit of man.
But do we still believe that these ideals drive the American spirit? Has this vision for our citizens run its course?
No, it has not. It may be tired, we may have become complacent and, perhaps, even bought into the idea that we as a people are not up to the challenges of our present time.
Yet even this is not in any way a new idea. Lately we have heard from those who say the Constitution is out-of-date. Ezra Klein, commentator for MSNBC and the Washington Post has infamously said: "The issue with the Constitution is not that people don’t read the text and think they’re following it. The issue with the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than a hundred years ago."
Well, he is right about one thing - it was written more than a hundred years ago. It was also ratified more than a hundred years ago. That happened in 1789. In Mr. Klein's world that's a long, long time ago, too!
This phony rationalization has come around before. Read an excerpt of this 1964 speech:
"Senator Fullbright (from Arkansas) has said at Stanford University that the Constitution is outmoded. He referred to the president as our moral teacher and our leader, and he said he is hobbled in his task by the restrictions in power imposed on him by this antiquated document. He must be freed so that he can do for us what he knows is best. And Senator Clark of Pennsylvania, another articulate spokesman, defines liberalism as "meeting the material needs of the masses through the full power of centralized government." Well, I for one resent it when a representative of the people refers to you and me--the free man and woman of this country--as "the masses." This is a term we haven't applied to ourselves in America. But beyond that, "the full power of centralized government"--this was the very thing the Founding Fathers sought to minimize. They knew that governments don't control things. A government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they know when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. They also knew, those Founding Fathers, that outside of its legitimate functions, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector of the economy."
A Time for Choosing: Oct. 27, 1964 http://www.nationalcenter.org/ReaganChoosing1964.html
In this speech by Ronald Reagan called "A Time For Choosing," the as-yet never elected, future President set out a standard which rings true for us now. His clarity of thought about individual responsibility vs. government control of our lives is as important this very day as it was nearly 50 years ago. His blueprint for America gives us a confident background for having this family discussion about whether our nation is headed up or down.
Nothing has changed. Liberals still want the government to have more control over the lives of the citizens so that they can "assure" outcomes. Conservatives still believe that the individual is preeminent and not a small group of elites who decide for us what is best.
In fact, if we took out the names of 1960s politicians in his speech and replaced it with today's liberals - no one, at least no one who has failed to study history, would believe that this was not written for this time.
His words echo across the generations because it is grounded in the same truth as our founding documents.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
There is no assurance of any outcomes - just the opportunity to try.
Take that vision of America - idealized as it is - and view it against the prism of a story Reagan included in his 1964 speech:
"Not too long ago two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refugee, a businessman who had escaped from Castro, and in the midst of his story one of my friends turned to the other and said, "We don't know how lucky we are." And the Cuban stopped and said, "How lucky you are! I had someplace to escape to." In that sentence he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth. And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except to sovereign people, is still the newest and most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man. This is the issue of this election. Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves."
This is what THE talk should focus on as we gather around with our friends and family. Looking to the skies to enjoy fireworks we should be reminded of the battles which occurred to give us freedom and liberty. We should teach our children about that sacrifice as the explosions go off above our heads. They need to know that men and women we will never know gave their very lives because they believed in an America where the individual could mean something.
Do we still believe the individual has power in America? Was their sacrifice worth it?
Or was it just too long ago? Are they people that we should forget because they are far away from us in time?
There should always be a fight in our nation about the role of the individual and that of government. Conservatives believe in the power of the individual - liberals believe in the power and righteousness of the government. It keeps us focused on those founding documents. They are hard to read, they are difficult to decipher yet they are based on eternal truths.
As President, Reagan has been greatly credited with restoring a sense of hope and optimism in our nation and our ability to overcome grave challenges. In his 1986 State of the Union Address, he gave us the drive we need today:
"Government growing beyond our consent had become a lumbering giant, slamming shut the gates of opportunity, threatening to crush the very roots of our freedom. What brought America back? The American people brought us back -- with quiet courage and common sense; with undying faith that in this nation under God the future will be ours, for the future belongs to the free."No matter the challenge - we have maintained our nation as a land of hope, freedom and opportunity. In our family talk, let us challenge each other to restore that freedom, build the hope of better days and assure ourselves that opportunities are made by individuals and not the government.
This will assure that America continues to face a rising and not a setting sun on the future of our people. We have met every threat. Overcome every adversity. Only our own self deception of our personal strength, courage and ability will cause us to fail.
May God richly bless the United States of America.