Colorado Day may fall on August 1st each year, but July 4th always serves as a reminder that we are the Centennial State, admitted to the union a century after the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadel-phia. In 1776 Lewis and Clark had not yet undertaken their trek from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia, crossing the Rockies somewhere in Wyoming, and Colorado was familiar only to its Native American tribes and a handful of French-Canadian trappers and other mountain men. The southern third of our state was still under Spanish colonial rule emanating from Santa Fe and Mexico City. Fremont, the American explorer, would be arrested for trespassing near Salida in 1803 by Spanish troops and thrown into jail along with his scouting party until their release could be negotiated from Washington. It was the discovery of gold that would lead Coloradans to statehood.
Two-hundred thirty-seven years into the American experiment with democracy, July 4th is no longer so much an observance of our rebellion against British overseers as it is a celebration of the freedom and prosperity that have blessed our nation following the Civil War. Although England remained an Imperial thug well into the middle of the 20th century, we twice rushed to its rescue during the First and Second World Wars. The Brits were, after all, family.
On July 4, 2013, and generally acknowledged as the only remaining superpower, the United States now also serves as the world’s policeman, expected to rush into harm’s way wherever and whenever civil discontents spill over into bloodshed. This has proven a thankless assignment that ignores George Washington’s warning against the dangers of “entangling alliances.” The Romans were able to shoulder a similar responsibility for nearly 400 years in an age when simple, brute force was the currency of power. Still, the economic toll eventually exceeded the Empire’s capacity to support its legions at a time when pretty much everyone in the world sent their taxes to Rome.
Americans, almost alone, seem expected to pay the freight for maintaining world order today. These costs are creating cracks in our prosperity that both Democratic and Republican political leaders are failing to discuss. Poverty is spreading across our country, and throughout Colorado as well. Today, one in three American families are attempting to raise children on incomes that cannot cover the basics of food, energy and shelter. Globalism and a recovering economy are funneling ever more wealth to those at the top of the corporate food chain where CEOs now earn 272 times the wages of workers. Capitalism is working fine for them; it just isn’t working for most of us. Our middle class is falling through the cracks, because we choose to ignore the cracks. Assurances that maybe next week, or next month, or next year things will get better ring hollow as paychecks continue to shrink.
Changing times demand reconsidered public policies and, in turn, require ever evolving personal assets. When Colorado was a frontier territory based on a resource extraction economy, it paid off to be large, muscular and reckless. Education wasn’t particularly important, although settlers were quick to throw up one-room schoolhouses. Digging for gold at 11,000 feet, homesteading on the Eastern plains or leading wagon trains through Indian Territory were not tasks for the weak or faint of heart. Homesteading in the 21st century has been replaced with the need for a college education that prepares the next generation to establish their own beachheads in a technologically driven economy. Yet, in Colorado, we have allowed our support of higher education to plunge to 48th in the nation, denying many of our kids access to the economic passport required in a global economy. Thousands of our young people, who must grow our economy during the decades ahead, face the future beneath a mountain of debt. That’s stupid public policy.
Baby boomers reached their maturity during a period of American plenty. Their children will properly resent it if their parents allow this prosperity to wither from neglect and greed. We too often lose sight of the fact that the U. S. Constitution was drafted as a replacement for the Articles of Confederation in order to guarantee that American government was strong enough to collect the taxes needed to meet its responsibilities. It was the freedom to tax, not freedom from taxes, which was enshrined in this new document. Yammering about our personal rights ignores our individual obligations. Ours intentionally remains a shared political destiny. The ‘rockets red glare’ should always throw light on injustice, inequality and fairness. We can ponder that as we enjoy our hot dogs, beer and corn-on-the-cob.
Miller Hudson is a columnist for The Colorado Statesman. A former state representative from North Denver, Hudson is currently a public policy consultant in Colorado. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.