Of those men who have overturned theliberties of republics, the greatestnumber have begun their career bypaying an obsequious court to thepeople, commencing demagogues andending tyrants. ~Alexander Hamilton

George Bush was fond of referring to America as a “Democracy.” Our overseas intention is to “spread democracy” presumably while we are “nation building.” If asked, the average citizen would say that America is a Democracy. The more erudite among us know that America is far more than a democracy. We are, in fact, a Republic—which is an elegant amalgam of democratic ideas (the people expressing their will through by exercising their vote and the looser representation of their ideas as put forth by our elected and appointed state representatives).

Whereas I agree in part with both of these descriptions of America, I believe that neither is sufficiently nor seminally accurate. The hallmark of the United States of America is freedom. Our freedoms were given by God, guaranteed by our Constitution, and protected by any brave citizen willing to risk life and limb to stand up to the enemies of our right to freedom.

Any tin-pot dictatorship can arrange an election and call itself a democracy. Iraq used to elect Saddam Hussein from time to time—in a landslide, I might add. What they lacked was freedom. Those among us who rue the day that our Senators are no longer appointed but elected directly will point out the weakening of the elegant republic as envisioned and created by our founders. Whereas we could still be called a republic, the degradation of our status as one makes this epithet less than central.

The overriding characteristic of America is that we have freedom—and can exercise our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There is nothing in the way of any American exercising his free will, self-expression, self-development of god-given potential, and self-determination. We need to be vigilant about our freedom—it is what sets the stage for individual and collective greatness. We need to notice it when any of our freedoms are infringed—by individuals or by government activities. My favorite quote on freedom comes from a former Prisoner of War held for three years in Hanoi: “An American noticing freedom is like a fish noticing water. He only notices it when it is gone.” --Doug Hegdahl. If we fail to notice our freedoms slipping away, suffocation will be the least of our worries.

~Bryce Lefever