“America is much more than a geographical fact. It is a political and moral fact — the first community in which men set out in principle to institutionalize freedom, responsible government and human equality.”
— Adlai Stevenson
The United States is a special place, and as we celebrate 236 years of independence, here are some things that are very much worth celebrating about our country;
1. Free and open elections. Our elections have never been perfect. At the founding of the country, too many people were denied the right to vote on the basis of race, gender and economics. Over the decades, however, we have strived to break down barriers to voting, including most recently physical barriers that made it difficult for people with physical needs to vote. Unfortunately, too many laws are being passed today to limit the right to vote; hopefully, this is a momentary blip in our history, because the right to vote should never be curtailed to give one party or another an advantage.
2. The right to free speech. The ability to speak one’s mind without fear of arrest is one of the greatest freedoms that we have. In some countries, referring to the new public works building in Manchester as the Ted Mahal, or calling the Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives the worst speaker results in house arrest. The flip side is that some Republicans who are not up on their political philosophy get to call me call me a “socialist liberal communist” even as some in my party say I am not a real Democrat because I don’t support a state income tax. We debate, we argue, we engage in hyperbole, but we cannot be arrested for peacefully expressing our opinions.
3. The transition of power. George Washington set the standard when he stepped aside after serving two terms. Abraham Lincoln will forever be one of the greatest Presidents for standing strong for the Union and the Constitution, including, during the Civil War, running for reelection. The elections were not cancelled; the parties did not cease campaigning. No matter what crisis may be raging, the United States holds elections.
4. Respect for the separation of powers. The balance provided by the executive, legislative and judicial branches would not work if the branches did not honor the separate powers provided to each. While the Republican majority in the United States House of Representatives may not like, or agree, with the Supreme Court health care decision, they cannot ignore it. For some reason, they will do their best to circumvent a law that provides that individuals who refuse to buy health insurance will no longer get the free ride that forced the rest of us to pay for their health care. But they cannot ignore the decision, because of the respect for the separation of powers that is instilled in the fabric of the country.
5. Universal education. An educated population is critical for the security and prosperity of the country. It also is the morally right thing to do. If every child does not have access to an excellent public education, then the promise of America — equal opportunity — cannot be kept. Our elected officials need to remember that their duty to promote public education is among their highest duties.
6. Freedom of religion and the anti-establishment clause. There are countries where persecution, prosecution and even execution based on religious belief is an accepted fact of life. In the United States, we do not just frown on religious discrimination, we have the right to the free exercise of religion written into the Constitution. Of equal importance, Congress is prohibited from making any law respecting the establishment of religion. Rick Santorum will never be elected President of the United States because unlike Santorum, the vast majority of Americans agree with John Kennedy, who believed “in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.” But then again, most Americans (unlike Santorum) also understand that Kennedy was not saying faith was not permissible in a public official, but rather that religious intolerance of any kind has no place in America.
7. America grows. The United States is not static. We strive to become a better place. Slavery ended. Women vote. Prohibition was adopted and then repealed. Child labor was banned. Workplace safety laws were adopted. Consumers were protected. Water and air were cleaned. Civil rights were adopted and expanded. Seniors were cared for. We are not a perfect country, but we still are, as Gov. John Lynch likes to say, the greatest country in the world.
Happy birthday, America.
Kathy Sullivan is a Manchester attorney and member of the Democratic National Committee. She was chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party from 1999-2007.