MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - I'll admit it. I sometimes get a little maudlin and syrupy when it comes to the Fourth of July and other patriotic holidays.
When someone on the Fourth sings the "Star Spangled Banner" the way it's supposed to be sung -- straightforward and without their special own flourishes designed to show off their voice rather than honor the music and the flag -- I can get a little catch in my throat and my heart pumps a little faster.
That doesn't mean I think everything about the USA is as good as apple pie; I recognize that our nation has its faults and that all Americans need to continue to work on fixing those faults.
But even with its shortcomings, I believe the United States remains a great nation where such virtues as hard work and honesty more often than not are rewarded with a good life.
That said, even I too often get caught up in the "holiday" atmosphere of the Fourth of July and forget to take a few moments to focus on what Independence Day really should be all about. History can be far from your thoughts when you're busy cooking burgers and hotdogs on the grill for a family gathering or you're churning home-made ice cream or popping fireworks for the kids.
As you celebrate Independence Day, I urge you to take a moment to remember those men who gathered in Philadelphia 239 years ago to forge a new nation.
I write this almost every year, but I believe it bears repeating: Think for a moment whether this nation would have been born in 1776 if the caliber of elected officials we had then was no better than the caliber of those we have today.
Among those 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence were such great minds as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
A case can be made that Jefferson, who penned the bulk of the Declaration, was the greatest intellect this nation has known. But Adams, Franklin and many others among the delegates to the Second Continental Congress were not intellectual slouches, either. Back then, intelligence and education were things to be honored. The anti-intellectualism we too often see today was around, I'm sure, but few claimed it as a virtue.
But it was not just their brains that would set political leaders then apart from today's national political figures. More important, I believe, was their willingness to seek compromise for the common good, their ability to think for themselves, and their personal courage to act upon their own reasoning and beliefs.
As I have noted many times before, the men who signed the Declaration weren't just risking their political futures when they mutually pledged "to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
The signers of the Declaration knew they risked imprisonment and even execution for treason. But still they forged the foundation for a new nation when they met in Philadelphia.
But that was then, and this is now. Then we had leaders who thought for themselves. Now we get politicians content to mindlessly parrot rhetoric from the Left or the Right.
Then our leaders sought middle ground for the common good. Now they too often put political gain ahead of compromise, making it impossible to address tough issues like balanced budgets or immigration reform.
Then we got courage from our leaders -- a willingness even to face death or imprisonment. Now we get politicians too afraid of losing the next election to do what they know is needed and right.
There are men and women of good will with political and personal courage in elective office today. But I do not believe there are enough of them.
As I have written before, I fear that if the Second Continental Congress had been made up of the majority of people of the caliber we have in Washington today, the United States may never have come to be.
"When in the course of human events..."
So begins the document that set this nation in motion. Remember it, and honor it, and remember and honor those 56 souls who forged the Declaration of Independence and the foundation for our great nation. Without them, and without their wisdom and courage, we would not have the freedoms we take for granted today.
Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at email@example.com.