Remembering the Fourth

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Today, as millions of Americans are firing up the grill, waving flags and remembering our nation’s birthday, hundreds of politicos, pundits and one Rick Perry are gearing up for a crack at the White House. If the media buzz is any indicator, the upcoming election presents a historic crossroads, making the 2012 election the biggest thing to happen to American politics since the 2010 midterms, which themselves were the most momentous event since 2008, and so on.

Sadly, political arguments might be the most explosive aspect of your Fourth of July, since the only fireworks in Travis County will come complements of Katy Perry and an iPod.

In the past two years what was once patriotic has become decidedly political. After all, when one side claims to draw inspiration from the Founding Fathers and the original Boston Tea Party, Valley Forge and “Yankee Doodle” take on whole new meanings.

But just what is the connection between the Boston Braves and their modern-day counterparts? The original tea party participants weren’t protesting against health care costs or spending on social services; there was no King George-care in 1773. They protested against taxes, specifically the Tea Act of 1773 and the previous Townsend Acts that were levied to at least in part, pay for mounting expenses relating to the defense of the empire. One wonders how today’s Williamson County Tea Party feels about cutting defense spending.

Nor did the Founding Fathers worry that their declaration might be considered politically incorrect. It was Thomas Jefferson who pinned that King George had “begun with circumstances of cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.” Whoa there, Thomas. Cool down that heated rhetoric. You’re just asking to be mocked by Jon Stewart or Bill Maher.

We live in an amazing country with an incredible history of democratic traditions and innovations. When our Founding Fathers penned the Declaration of Independence, they created a model for democracy that nations the world over have strived to replicate. That said, we have never been a perfect country. A civil war and countless other injustices stand testament to that fact. But it was Alexis de Tocqueville who said “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

But perhaps the most awe-inspiring facet of our American system government was not given birth on the Fourth of July, but rather, on the Fourth of March.

On that day in 1801, our second president, John Adams, handed over the most powerful position in the country to his bitter rival, the aforementioned Jefferson. For those of you who slept through History 315K, Adams was a Federalist and supported a strong central federal government, while Jefferson was an anti-Federalist, who advocated for many powers to be retained by that states. European wars, the Alien and Sedition Acts and other issue critical to the infant nation all fueled a heated debate as two former friends with contrasting philosophies lead their parties against each other.

The event, which would go down in history as the Revolution of 1800, was remarkable for what did not happen. There were no riots, no coups or bloodshed. Bitter political enemies deferred to the greater interest of their country and, in doing so, set a precedent for the transition of power from presidency to presidency that has endured for centuries.

There was no European precedent for peacefully changing governments. Attempts at political reform in France had led to the guillotine just a decade earlier. To this day, democracies around the world often crumble when the wrong side wins an election.

In the past two years, the tone of political rhetoric in this country has taken a decidedly spiteful turn. Our current president is one of the most polarizing figures in recent memory. Conservatives have spawned a fetish dedicated to trying to discredit Obama, and the only thing liberals seem to hate more than Sarah Palin is the idea that someone doesn’t agree with them. Yet, as much as Republicans and Democrats may hate each other, we can take comfort in knowing that the civic institutions of this country are greater than whichever individuals they happen to house.

This Fourth of July, take time to reflect on the courage and wisdom that this nation’s founders displayed when they declared our independence. But also remember how their deference and humility helped to shape our country.
 

— Dave Player for the editorial board.