The last­ing rel­e­vance of the dec­la­ra­tion

The Covington News - - OPINION - SCOTT RAS­MUSSEN COLUM­NIST To find out more about Scott Ras­mussen and read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit www.cre­ators.com.

Happy Fourth of July! Amer­ica’s 238th birth­day party is be­ing cel­e­brated in the usual way all weekend with fire­works, cook­outs, pa­rades and pa­tri­otic songs. Words from the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence are re­cited at some events to re­mind us of the found­ing ideals of our na­tion. While the world has changed dra­mat­i­cally since 1776, those ideals re­main as rel­e­vant to­day as they were when Thomas Jef­fer­son first com­mit­ted them to paper.

Sadly, as we cel­e­brate in 2014, many Amer­i­cans won­der if our na­tion has passed its peak. Pes­simism seems to be the of­fi­cial na­tional mood, and vot­ers are disgusted with the in­com­pe­tence, petty par­ti­san­ship and child­ish be­hav­ior of our elected politi­cians. The po­lit­i­cal elite has done a good job earn­ing that rep­u­ta­tion.

The root prob­lem is that of­fi­cial Wash­ing­ton would like to ig­nore the ideals we cel­e­brate on July 4.

In “The Con­science of the Con­sti­tu­tion: The Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence and the Right to Liber- ty,” Ti­mothy San­de­fur re­minds us, “Amer­i­can con­sti­tu­tional his­tory has al­ways hov­ered in the mu­tual re­sis­tance of two prin­ci­ples: the right of each in­di­vid­ual to be free and the power of the ma­jor­ity to make rules.”

The no­tion that free­dom comes first — and that we have cer­tain in­alien­able rights that not even govern­ment can take away — is what made the Dec­la­ra­tion a truly rev­o­lu­tion­ary doc­u­ment. It’s also what made Amer­ica a great na­tion.

That com­mit­ment to free­dom is still em­braced by Amer­i­cans to­day, and it is the core of what Jef­fer­son long ago called the “Spirit of ‘76”: the deeply held be­lief that each of us has the right to make our own de­ci­sions about our own life so long as we don’t in­ter­fere with the rights of oth­ers to do the same.

But it’s more than just a cry for free­dom. There’s an as­pi­ra­tional qual­ity to the found­ing spirit of our na­tion. We want to not only carry our own weight but con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety. We want to use our free­dom to work to­gether and cre­ate com­mu­ni­ties. We want to bet­ter our­selves, do all we can to make sure our chil­dren will be bet­ter off than we are, and cre­ate a bet­ter world. We be­lieve that ev­ery­body should have the op­por­tu­nity to make bet­ter lives for them­selves.

In short, we want ev­ery­body to have a chance to suc­ceed, and we want to leave our coun­try in bet­ter shape than we found it.

That’s Amer­ica at our best.

Un­for­tu­nately, in of­fi­cial Wash­ing­ton to­day, we see Amer­ica at its worst. In their quest for power, po­lit­i­cal elites in both par­ties want to turn the na­tion’s core be­liefs upside down. They be­lieve the pow- er of govern­ment should be more im­por­tant than in­di­vid­ual rights. Pol­icy dis­cus­sions quickly de­gen­er­ate into dis­cus­sions of govern­ment-selected win­ners and losers. The end re­sult is an over­reg­u­lated and over-politi­cized na­tion.

The rem­edy is to rec­og­nize that in a di­verse na­tion, there is no per­ma­nent ma­jor­ity. We all ben­e­fit when our rights are pro­tected. Last­ing po­lit­i­cal unity can come only from re­spect­ing free­dom first. Abra­ham Lin­coln, the pres­i­dent who pre­served the Union and is­sued the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion, de­clared, “I have never had a feel­ing po­lit­i­cally that did not spring from the sen­ti­ments em­bod­ied in the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence.”

That’s a feel­ing we should all cul­ti­vate to cel­e­brate our na­tion’s birth­day.

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