As Georgians gather today with friends and family to celebrate America's Independence Day, parades, barbecues, fireworks and picnics will highlight this most patriotic day of the year. Nothing is more woven into the fabric of this great nation than celebrating our unique heritage as self-governed citizens of a free republic. Along with the red, white and blue festivities, it is equally important to reflect on the God-given freedoms protected by our Founding Fathers in the face of great risk and sacrifice.
OVER THE PAST 18 months, Washington has overhauled our nation's health-care system, bailed out banks and auto companies, and pushed legislation to subvert a Supreme Court decision that protects First Amendment rights. However, the current political debate is about more than how these new government programs and policies will affect our taxes or the federal deficit.
As American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks points out in his book The Battle, "This is not a fight over guns, abortions, religion and gays. Nor is it about Republican vs. Democrats." Ultimately, it is a debate over whether we will stand idly by as the foundation of our free-enterprise system is unraveled and replaced with an unstable, centrally controlling government.
Unfortunately, some have used our nation's economic recession as an opportunity to implement a centrally controlled government. By the time Washington had overstepped its constitutional authority and took over the health-care industry, the American people were exasperated. Individuals, families and small businesses were no doubt concerned with the cost of a government-run health-care system.
However, they were more concerned that the infamously inefficient federal government was stripping away their freedoms to make the most basic decisions -- all the while ignoring the voices and the will of the American people.
Recent polls reveal that almost 70 percent of Americans prefer a free-enterprise economy, and it is for good reason. On this day 234 years ago, our Founding Fathers declared that all men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
THE DECLARATION of Independence established our nation's philosophy of freedom. To preserve these freedoms, our Founding Fathers drafted the U.S. Constitution, which established a limited, federal government and paved the path for a free-enterprise system.
A free-enterprise system empowers individuals and entrepreneurs to succeed. It provides equal opportunity, not equal outcome or equal guarantee. And while a centrally controlled government attempts to prevent failure, it also prevents individuals from achieving the personal success that free enterprise offers.
Our Founding Fathers understood that limiting the federal government's control would enable Americans to pursue greater opportunity. By limiting the size and scope of the federal government, our Founding Fathers provided more opportunity for future generations.
Together, the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence provide the solid foundation that supports the greatest nation on Earth. However, as Ronald Reagan warned us, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." If we want to continue to enjoy our freedoms and secure a better future for our children and grandchildren, we will have to fight for them. As we celebrate our heritage, renewing knowledge of where we started and where we are today is the first step to regaining our freedom.
We cannot demand the freedoms we need to regain until the American people understand how much they have lost. As Reagan said, "One day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."
SO BEFORE YOU start the grill and watch the fireworks tonight, I encourage you and your family to read the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and even read what our Founding Fathers said about these important documents. Change in our nation's capital will not start in Washington. It will and must start in our communities and with our fellow Americans.
We must demand the kind of change we were given by our Founding Fathers at such great risk and peril, or risk losing everything they were willing to die for.
Today, of all days, it is important to not only celebrate the occasion of our independence, but also the very spirit from which it was born -- freedom!
(The writer has represented Georgia's 10th District in the U.S. House of Representatives since July 2007.)