Tough times on this Independence Day

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By Rick Howell

This July 4th will be, in many ways, just like past celebrations of Independence Day. Grills will churn out hamburgers and hot dogs. Families will vacation, and those not traveling will take full advantage of a much-needed day off.

That’s the way it should be, as America celebrates its freedom and independence. But everyone knows that this year’s holiday is just a temporary respite from the growing anxiety that most Americans feel about their country.

Every pass by a gas station or convenience store is a gut check, a nervous examination of just how much more the price of gas has risen. Trips to the grocery store have become pretty much the same.

The unemployment rate went up again recently. Then there’s the continuing crisis in health care, with millions of people one diagnosis away from bankruptcy. The home mortgage problem hasn’t changed, and now the power companies want a big increase in their rates.

Those are just our domestic concerns, some of them. Across the seas, America remains bogged down in a war in Iraq from which the current president refuses to remove us. He started this war after months of propaganda about “a threat” that turned out to be false.

After two years of it - long past the point when most of us thought it would be over - vast majorities turned against the war and punished the president’s party for it in the 2006 mid-term elections. Yet he soldiers on, imagining that he’s a great fighter of evil, a “vision” of himself shared by very few of his countrymen.

Along the path of war, this administration has sanctioned torture and throwing people in jail until they rot. All it takes is to be termed an “enemy combatant,” and you have no rights that Bush and Cheney are bound to respect.

Yet, despite this bleak picture, Americans have always been good at expressing hope, insisting upon the idea that things can and most likely will get better. For many, that hope is expressed in the presidential candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama.

Obama seems to “get it” about all the problems we have. He knows that the war was a mistake from the start, and he’s been consistent and articulate about his intention to end it. He knows, too, that the richest country on earth can do better than to leave 50 million people without affordable health care.

Obama is engaged in what is really, for the first time in a long time, a generational competition with Sen. John McCain. Obama is in his 40s; McCain is in his 70s. It may be that hope itself is easier to express among the young, who don’t possess the cynicism that many older people have developed.

Whatever the reason, Obama’s candidacy has sparked tremendous enthusiasm among the young, and among those of us who know American can do better. McCain was once thought of as independent, possessed of a maverick spirit himself. But that was the McCain of 2000, the one his party shunned for George W. Bush.

It’s a troubled holiday this year, but a holiday nonetheless. There will be much to worry about on July 4 and thereafter, but as America’s greatest 20th century president once said: “All we have to fear is fear itself.”

Hope truly does spring eternal, and it comforts us the most when we need it the most. I’m hoping that, come November, America will reject the policies of the past eight years and turn to a new president with new ideas, Barack Obama.

As for this July 4th, well, my son Ryan has more fireworks for me and him to enjoy. That’s my humble advice for everyoneee.enjoy Independence Day. We’ll tackle the rest later.

Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.