Bob Franken: A new Independence Day needed

Let’s be honest. While July Fourth is supposed to be a huge celebration of our nation, this one is a little more complicated. Half of those polled by Pew believe that the best years of the United States of America are behind us. Gallup reports the number of Americans “satisfied” with their freedoms is declining, and eight in 10 think that government is inherently corrupt. Flag-waving belief in “American Exceptionalism” is corroding.

Clearly, the years of political buffoonery and the never ending disclosures of government fecklessness, combined with private-sector cheating, has taken a toll — a serious toll. The sad results are on display in the many metrics that show us slipping. From education to health care to hunger to distribution of wealth, we’re down in the pack. No amount of jingoistic platitudes can cover that up.

On any given day, we see reports of agencies frittering away hundreds of millions — or billions — in taxpayer dollars, bungling their missions in the most obnoxious way. It has come to the point that when a study details how the Department of Veterans Affairs has betrayed the veterans who have given so much defending the American dream, we simply shake our heads. The sense of futility is the same when still another bank is slapped on the wrist for contributing to the economic collapse by breaking what flimsy rules exist.

We take as a given that the big-money interests control a system that is supposed to protect against their excesses. And when a challenge confronts them, whether it’s the Occupy movement on the left or the tea party on the right, the fat cats chip in to defeat the troublemakers.

Meanwhile, those in power make a mockery out of the longstanding claim that we have a right to privacy. We are regularly flogged with evidence that our spies spend a huge part of their time spying on us. Meanwhile, they’re surprised when a ragtag group of extremists suddenly takes over huge chunks of Iraq, startling our intelligence leaders with their emergence from plain sight.

Over at the Supreme Court, a majority of justices has given business favored status in this country with rulings that define corporations as people with more rights than the lesser people who work for them. The largest assault comes in the Hobby Lobby case, with the 5-4 ruling that the owners’ religious preferences trump the health of the women who work for them, allowing the company to refuse because of their faith to pay for contraception as required in the health-care law. What’s next, wondered dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Would the exemption ... extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?].”

Perhaps as they approached this July Fourth, they were thinking about the Declaration of Independence and its stirring proposition that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The problem seems to be that the all-male Supremes majority apparently took that to mean that only “men are created equal,” that protection for women isn’t a responsibility of employers who want to foist their beliefs on them. Granted, the Bill of Rights, with its Establishment Clause didn’t come until several years after the independence we celebrate, but it is supposed to be part of our nation’s fabric.

Those of us who are in love with this country and its ideals are mourning the fact that we seem to be unraveling. We need to remember our promises. This July Fourth may be the perfect time to start.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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