July 4 celebrates the founding of the United States of America, but in 2007, it often seems there are more things that divide us than unite us.
The U.S. democracy is a marvel of flexibility that keeps states and lawmakers working together in spite of major philosophical differences. Sometimes our lawmakers - not to mention our citizens - seem to disagree on just about everything except the system that ties us together.
America is in a constant state of debate. No principle goes unchallenged. Certain citizens are outraged at President Bush's decision to commute the prison sentence for Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a former White House aide convicted of lying and conspiracy in the CIA leak investigation. The president, they say, is overstepping his authority by canceling a judicial decision.
Other observers are equally distressed with the judicial branch, including recent Supreme Court decisions that they see as infringements on free speech and individual rights.
Lest the third branch of government be neglected, the Congress also is under attack for its partisan behavior and inability to reach consensus on key issues such as immigration or health care reform.
No doubt about it, America is an equal-opportunity employer when it comes to public criticism.
It's amazing, in a way, that Americans can disagree so vehemently on even the nation's most central founding principles - things like freedom of speech and the right to bear arms - without ever considering the possibility of dissolving our union and starting over. Our ship of state rocks violently from side to side yet somehow always manages to right itself and sail forward. At some level Americans continue to feel that the best solutions can and must be found within our government system instead of without it.
Because of our republic's wonderful resilience, we have the luxury of mostly taking our government and our democratic system for granted.
Even though we have the right to be heard, we shouldn't assume that the person who screams the loudest necessarily will win the day. We shouldn't assume that our own thinking, as right as it seems to us, is the only way to look at an issue. We shouldn't assume that for every winner, there also is a loser and that compromise is a sign of weakness.
America is a nation of individual freedom, but, ultimately, its greatest strength is the incredible government that ties individuals together in spite of their differences.
That government survives plenty of neglect and abuse, but it also needs some care and feeding. The celebration of our independence on July 4 is a good time to rededicate ourselves to the shared vision and spirit of compromise our founders displayed when they brought forth this incredible union.