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A Fourth of July Confessional

07/05/02 12:00AM By Olin Robison
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(Host) Commentator Olin Robison has a public confessional about what he thinks is important about the Fourth of July.

(Robison) I found myself rather agitated and distressed while reading a lengthy piece in last weekend's edition of The Financial Times of London. The article was about the commercialization of the concept of patriotism and how the Fourth of July is a high point of the year for that particular branch of commerce.

I realized that my distress was in fact a desire not to see Independence Day commercialized. And I also don't want to think of patriotism as a marketing opportunity. And so I wrote a list of things that seem to be more appropriate on this special day and weekend. I do apologize for the excessive use of the personal pronoun, but that would appear to be the nature of a public confessional.

First, I am profoundly grateful for the vision that guided those who gathered in Philadelphia two and a quarter centuries ago. It is so easy to take it all for granted. But we shouldn't. President Bush the elder once publicly confessed that he was a bit weak in what he termed "the vision thing." Fortunately for all of us, "the vision thing" really was the strong point of the Founders. And if you don't think so, just go back and read the Declaration of Independence. And while you're at it, read the preamble to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. You might even want to sign, yes, actually sign, the Declaration of Independence. Go onto the National Archives web site and they will show you how to do it.

Second, I feel very fortunate to live not only in the land of opportunity but also in the land of optimism. It may be hard to measure or quantify, but it is the underpinning of what has made the United States the magnet that it has been and is for so many people from so many places for so many generations.

Third, the broad public commitment in this country to giving and to service is distinctly American in ways that Americans take for granted but others have trouble understanding. Nowhere else in the world is there so dramatic a commitment to public service and so vibrant a non-profit sector, a third sector, if you will.

Fourth, I am humbled by the selfless courage all of us see everyday from so many people in so many walks of life. We all saw it dramatically last September 11. But the kind of courage that places the welfare of others before one's own quite frankly both inspires and challenges. Courage is of course not distinctly American; but it is alive and well in America.

Fifth, I am deeply grateful to be part of a society committed to my inalienable right to be wrong. It's o.k. to be wrong. Really. A couple of years ago I was approached by a man in a supermarket in Vermont. We were both pushing shopping carts as he asked, "Are you Olin Robison?" "Yes," I said, "I am." "Then let me shake your hand, " he said, "I've been listening to you on the radio for years and I've almost never agreed with a thing you've said, but let me shake your hand." We both laughed and had a short pleasant conversation about different ways of seeing things. I loved it. And how very American!

And so happy Fourth of July everyone. Buy something with a flag on it if you like. But don't mistake that for any of the more important stuff.

Now, as to that distressing piece in The Financial Times. I will be seeing one of their editors at a meeting in London next week. I think I will, as the British say, have a word with him.

This is Olin Robison.

Olin Robison is president of the Salzburg Seminar, located in Middlebury, Vermont and Salzburg, Austria.
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