Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, July 1, 2019
This is the Fourth of July column a few days early. There will be a thousand articles and thoughts about the “birth of our nation,” the day commemorating the Declaration of Independence, although the Congress actually voted to approve it two days earlier — but as they say, who’s counting?
On a recent long fishing trip, I read the Bruce Springsteen autobiography, “Born to Run.” The Boss is unique, but his signature song, on the breakout album that launched his career into the stratosphere, did not come until his seventh album, “Born in the USA.”
It is a complex song with multiple interpretations. At one point Ronald Reagan, who was running for president at that time, asked to use the song in his campaign, but was politely rebuffed by Springsteen. It is not a flag-waving paean to being an American; rather it is a somewhat caustic commentary on the hypocrisy of patriotism. It echoes the Vietnam conflict, it talks about veterans, it asks about sacrifice. Scholars of music see the song as a metaphor “for the social and economic siege of American blue-collar communities” at large and the song cautions against “blind nationalism.” I recommend the book. It is a great read, and play the song loud.
Another perspective on this holiday can be found in the words of a modestly successful investor, Warren Buffett. He calls being born in the USA an accident of birth — the equivalent of winning the “ovarian lottery.” He says it is a great system, but Buffett challenges us to make it better when he talks about “You don’t want fear in people’s minds — fear of lack of money in old age, fear of cost of health care.” He deeply appreciates that he was lucky, and he knows there is inequality, but he holds the belief that we can make it better. He acknowledges the challenges, but applauds the audience — us, the American people. And finally, this day reminds us that in spite of everything, being born in the USA may be the ultimate winning lottery ticket. And my own perspective is that we should not squander that gift.
The rule on this holiday for columnists is to make it short and sweet. Enjoy the hot dogs, careful with the fireworks, hug your children and grandchildren, and spend a few moments on gratitude. Ask yourself: Do you want to trade in your birth ticket and draw a different ball out of the lottery bin of 8 billion people on this planet? Not me. When asked if I want to discard any and draw for some new cards, my answer is a humble, “I’ll play these.”
Rule No. 617
I might need to exchange my trademark hat for a bandanna.