National Commentary

This July 4, In Particular

bentonmugThe Fourth of July festivities across the U.S. this Saturday are going to elicit a qualitatively different sense of deep joy and national pride than perhaps has been felt since the nation’s triumph over totalitarianism in 1945, before most Americans today were even born.

The fireworks and the red, white and blue will evoke something more profound and beautiful, I predict, than most of us expect. It may catch many of us off guard.

As one dear friend remarked to me recently, since President Obama took office, it seems like every day is Christmas. Every day, she said, there is some new bold initiative, some added resounding commitment to keep the campaign promises that elicits joy.

We are, indeed, right in the midst of a profound turnaround in the course the nation has taken in recent decades, a course that took the country to the very precipice of the worst economic meltdown in modern history, brought on by the anti-regulatory orgy of greed and exploitation sanctioned under the previous administration.

It is going to take time, and more extraordinary effort, to begin healing the deep wounds inflicted by the Bush regime, and it may be hard to recognize just how bad things were, and were about to get, before the recent months’ interventions began.

Still, with far more to do on the economy, it is veritably stunning to fathom the concept that before the end of this year, the U.S. is going to have a national health plan that will provide for every American to have coverage. It is stunning to realize that some form of comprehensive policy aimed at ending the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and restoring the environment will become law.

These are matters that have been advocated and debated for most of the post-World War II period, but were never made into law. That is about to change, and within the first year of the Obama administration, to boot.

The events of the most recent days have added to setting the stage for this Saturday’s most exquisite celebration of the core values of the nation. They include the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the town and cities of Iraq, the certification of the election of Sen. Franken in Minnesota giving the Democrats a theoretical filibuster-proof super-majority in the U.S. Senate, and President and Mrs. Obama’s welcoming of over 200 leaders and pioneers of the equal rights movement for lesbians and gays in the White House. Obama promised them that virtually every single law denying equality to this last, institutionally-discriminated-against class of American citizens, will be struck down.

Another friend just this week was cleaning out his garage, and brought me an old framed photograph, one of those extra-wide fish-eye lens shots of hundreds of people attending the November 13, 1945 National Press Club dinner with President Harry S. Truman as the guest of honor. Future president Gen. Dwight Eisenhower is also identifiable in the photograph, as well as my friend’s father, a member of the Press Club.

When he first presented me with the photo as a gift, my inclination was to look closely and see if a very young White House correspondent Helen Thomas might be somewhere in the photo. But it suddenly became clear that not only was she not there, but not one single woman or person of color was among the many hundreds in that photo.

Indeed, every face was very white, and very male. That photo stands, on this day, as a remarkable testament to how far we’ve come from that moment, itself only months after the VE and VJ days had culminated the nation’s decisive triumph over global totalitarianism, one of her greatest historical moments.

This year’s new historical moment represents great progress since that time, as the photograph underscores, and the promise of even greater, even if difficult, days ahead.

For those among the half-million or so who plan to watch the fireworks from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., it will be a clear and warm day. The fireworks show always goes off in front of the Lincoln Memorial, with the music being performed at the opposite end of the Mall being heard on loudspeakers its entire length.

Beneath the fireworks, through the haze of the smoke, can always be seen the marble seated President Lincoln, silhouetted against lighting inside his monument, made copper-colored by the smoke, looking out on all he that sees before him on that night, and I sense that this year, in particular, there will be a smile on his face.