Northern Valley Beacon

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006


The unfinished business of liberty

Independence Day is a time when attacks of intellectual nausea can be fatal. The smarmy, the fatuous, and the flat-out stupid (as Ron White says, stupid can't be fixed) use the occasion to make patriotism and the celebration of our nation's real virtues demented exercises. The Fourth of July is not merely a time of celebration, but is a time of reflection on how well the nation is living up to the precepts announced in the Declaration of Independence.

In 1852, an ex-slave and master orator, Frederick Douglass, gave a speech titled "What to the slave is the Fourth of July?" He acknowledged the force of American democracy in the world, but he also stressed that not everyone in America had the benefits of that force--in his time, particularly the slaves:

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

He honored America, but with reservation because of its unfinished business in bringing liberty, equality, and justice to all its people. Today he would be called a traitor, anti-American, and all those other epithets used by the political Babitts to cram their calendar-art patriotism down the nation's collective throat. His words still ring true.

We, as did Frederick Douglass in 1852, hope the day will come when all Americans can celebrate America. But its business is far from done.

We are not so much interested in mindlessly flying the flag and talking about the advantages of our nation as we are in making those advantages available to all people. It is meet and salutary to celebrate our country.

But tomorrow we have to attend to unfinished business. And it will not be pleasant work. The enemies of freedom, equality, and liberty from within our country are as threatening as the terrorists from without. They attack, however, by insidious means. Read the neo-regressive blogs, if you must remind yourselves who must be included among the enemies of liberty. But be prepared for massive bouts of intellectual nausea.

Just as Frederick Douglass encouraged the fight against slavery and those who would deprive Americans of their inalienable rights, so we recognize the huge fight confronting us to take America back from those who see political success only in how many people may be maligned and oppressed.

We have a chance to finish the business of liberty with the election of 2006. And that is what we are reflecting on today. Tomorrow is time for action.

Happy Fourth of July. May it be really happy next year.

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