4th of July

So here it is.  The 232nd anniversary of the U.S. Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.  Happy birthday to us.

I wish I had something particularly interesting or insightful to say about Independence Day, but I don’t.  While I try very hard not to take the freedoms granted by the good fortune of my birth in the USA for granted … sometimes that’s difficult.

I’ve never not known freedom, and to some extent, privilege.  I’m a white male.  Sometimes, when people ask the generic question “how’re you doing” … to which they’re hoping not to get a response other than “fine”, I’ll tell them “About as well as can be -expected for an overweight, middle-aged, white guy”.  Sometimes, I’ll just say ‘Ambulatory”, but that’s another post.

But think about that for a minute.  If I added the sobriquet “middle-class”, it might be just about the perfect life.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’d like to be rich … or at least better off than I am now.  But having chosen a career in Public Broadcasting, and not at the Click and Clack or Garrison Keillor level, that ain’t likely to happen unless I hit the lottery.  But I have things so much better than so many people in this country … not to mention around the world … just by the good graces of where and to whom I happened to be born.

My parents were not terribly patriotic.  I don’t think we even flew a flag on July 4th at our house.  In an era where not wearing a flag lapel pin can call into question your patriotism, I guess not flying a flag on 7/4 could be seen as sacrilege.  But my parents and grand parents never allowed us to REALLY want for anything.  There was always a roof over our heads, food on the table (and plenty of it, as is evidenced by my ongoing weight problems), cars to drive, gas for the cars, a boat, a summer place, decent public schools and good friends.  It was the classic middle class Midwestern upbringing.  As middle America as it gets.

I’ve managed to maintain that position in the middle class.  I never felt like my being a white male gave me any particular advantage over anyone else, but how can you know that?  I certainly don’t.  I always felt like every job I’ve gotten, and I’ve never been without one for more than a couple of months one time, I got because I was truly the best qualified applicant for the job.  There were a few of the “who you know” things, but every job probably comes down at least partially to that.  But now, I have enough to be comfortable living in my little bungalow in a beach town with cars, gas for the cars (though we’re watching that closely), a boat, gas for the boat (again, a close watch), still too much food on the table, good friends … I’m as white-bread middle class as it gets.

I think there are far more of us out here than anyone realizes.  But by and large, I think we all want the same things, regardless of race, creed, politics, color, religion, sexual orientation … we want to be able to have the life we want with minimal interference from the government.  As long as we’re not hurting anyone, why should anyone care what it is that we do with our spare time.  And if it’s outside the mainstream, so what. 

I firmly believe whether your white, black, Hispanic, Asian, straight, gay, transgendered, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, your principal concerns are being sure you and your family have enough to eat, a roof over their head, and the freedom to do and be and worship or not worship however you choose. 

That’s not always the case in our great country.  And it’s not so much the fault of the government, thought it has its faults.  Government should not prevent gays from marrying if they choose.  If insurance companies don’t want to offer spousal benefits to same-sex couples, they should just say so and not hide behind governments’ skirts.  It’s people.  It’s intolerant people who think if a man wants to wear a dress that he’s some kind of pervert and a good candidate for a beating or worse.  The good news is, while most look on these things outside the mainstream as a curiosity, and don’t do more than point and laugh, there are enough bad, mean people around to make anyone the least little bit outside the mainstream want to just hide, and try to conform.

As you can imagine, I don’t hold to the classically Republican ideal of God and Guns.  I do own several guns … and I know how to use them.  I cheered the recent decision on the 2nd amendment.  But religion is anathema to me.  I have a refrigerator magnet that says “I’ve got nothing against God, it’s his fan club I can’t stand”.  I think abortion should be safe and legal and very rare.  I’ll never have to make the decision whether or not to have one, so why should I impose my values on anyone else.  But nor can I embrace the Democratic notion of “everyone has to be treated fairly”, and if I have to take away some of the money you earned and give it to someone else because they don’t have it … that’s ok.  It’s NOT OK.  Fare is what you pay to get on the bus.  Life isn’t fair, and it’s never going to be, no matter how much government tries to engineer it that way.

That doesn’t mean I think the truly needy should be tossed out on the street, and that government shouldn’t assist those in genuine need.  But the trick is assessing what is genuine need and what is just crap and whining and “woe is me”.  There are enough examples of people of all races and ethnicities coming from nothing and bringing themselves up to the great middle class that if people spent as much time trying to help themselves as whining about how “the government ought to do something” they’d find themselves in a better place.  And maybe government assistance ought to be predicated on proving that you’re at least trying.  And really proving it.

Again, I say all this having come from, if not privilege, then at least middle class comfort.  I don’t know that I’ve ever struggled, and maybe that’s what’s shaped my attitude.  I hope I never have to find out the hard way just how awful it can be, and I’m sure it can be awful.  But I honestly believe that for every person out there who’s honestly in need of help, there may be a dozen who are gaming the system because that’s easier than working.  And that makes me mad.

What does all this have to do with the 4th of July?  Simply that we enjoy the freedom to be what we want to be, to do what we want to do, because of the sacrifices of those who have gone before us.  But nobody is OWED a living in this great country.  You are given the right and opportunity to EARN a living. 

And I hope everyone who is able will take advantage of that, and not wait for the government to do it for them.  Government is damned inefficient in that regard.




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