Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
August 10, 2010
I want my country back!
That seems to be a popular demand these days and now it’s my turn. It’s my country too.
And while I’m at it, I want my Constitution back.
I want to live in a country – this country, my country – that follows its Constitution.
I want a country that believes in Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech and – yes – the Right to Bear Arms.
I’m not a gun guy, but I’m willing to embrace the whole package because that’s the way it works. You have to play by the rules. All the rules.
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I want a country that looks at immigrants and sees both challenge and opportunity.
I want a country that pays its bills and a country where citizens understand they have to pay for what they want.
That’s my country – and I want it back.
OK. Deep breath.
I want a country that earns what it demands. I want a country that is willing to do the hard work.
Right now this is a lazy country. People want things they aren’t willing to pay for. They want greatness they haven’t earned.
There is a concept known as “American exceptionalism” that says this nation is unique among nations, that this country is, quite simply, better than all the rest.
That’s certainly what I grew up believing. I knew that America was the best country. I knew it in my heart of hearts. I knew it in my soul. I knew it with every fiber of my being. I wondered how I got to be so lucky as to be born in the U.S.A.
And by the way, I never believed in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. I was, in my own weird way, a level-headed kid. And, boy oh boy, I sure believed in the greatness of America.
I didn’t realize then – hey, I was just a kid – that America didn’t just “happen” to be great. There were a lot of reasons for our greatness. Our near-miracle of a Constitution, of course. But also our immigrant heritage, which brought people of every background and experience from all over the globe to work together and fight with one another and eventually battle their way to a nation that blended all our strengths.
And there was our great geographic good fortune, to possess a vast fertile swathe of the planet, protected with wide oceans to the east and west and non-threatening neighbors to the north and south.
We really got a good deal.
But what I truly never realized as a kid – because kids just don’t think about this sort of thing – was the vast amount of hard work involved. Not just in founding and then building the country, but in keeping the country great.
These days, the people who crow the loudest about American exceptionalism seem to be unwilling to do any work – except whatever small effort is involved in their crowing. Like the rooster who is convinced that he does the real work of hauling the sun up into the sky every morning, these squawking barnyard bullies think that their screeching is what keeps America great.
But perhaps they need to remember the lesson that most loud-mouth roosters learn eventually: when they stop being truly useful, they wind up headless, in the soup pot. And the sun still comes up every morning.
Our Constitution is truly wonderful, but the wonder of it does not mean it is easy to live by. Indeed, it may be exactly the opposite. Living by our Constitution is hard.
Freedom of Speech is dangerous. It means hateful people can spout hateful things in public. They have a right to do that and the rest of us must not only respect that right, we must fight for that right.
Freedom of Religion is difficult. It means that other people get to worship exactly however they please – even if their God is not the same as ours. Even if we’re dead certain their God is the wrong God.
So sometimes people say things we hate. And sometimes they worship a God we hate. But the Constitution says they get to do that.
It’s not easy, but that’s the price we pay for greatness.
Let me say that again: That’s the price we pay for greatness.
And the problem we face today is that no one seems willing to do that real hard work of keeping America great.
I hate putting up with jerks as much as you do – but tolerance is part of the American bargain. Tolerance for loudmouths (that’s the Freedom of Speech). Tolerance for heretics (that’s Freedom of Religion).
I’m talking about the hard working of paying for the great nation we want to be, the great nation we claim we are.
Nothing comes for free – and that includes greatness. I hate paying taxes as much as anyone. I really, really do. But you know what? I also hate paying my credit card bills. And I hate paying for dinner in a restaurant. I really love going out for a nice dinner, but, damn, I hate it when they bring the bill.
But here’s the thing: I know I have to pay.
It’s really pretty simple, isn’t it? We all know the rules.
So when did people start getting the idea that we don’t have to pay for being a great nation?
You may think that America’s great because God wants us to be great – case closed. But even Jesus said people need to pay their taxes. (Oh, yes, he did. Remember “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”? That was a speech about paying your taxes.)
Our country’s falling apart. Our highways and bridges, our school systems, our local governments are all falling apart. And they’re falling apart because people have decided they shouldn’t be paying taxes – shouldn’t be paying for those fancy dinners they want to eat.
Here’s the deal: Great nations don’t fall apart.
Great nations are filled with great people who are willing to do the hard work – and pay the price – of greatness.
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