Once Upon a Time in America

When the s*** hits the fan, for more than two centuries the best people in the world have been able to count on one thing: escaping to America.

Even before there was a United States, the land we call America was a different place. In America, a peasant could own land. A slave could fight -- literally -- for his freedom. An Irish cop could arrest an English criminal.

In America, a Russian could speak his mind, an Italian could renounce the Pope, a Serbian could marry a Turk, an Asian or an Indian could find space to move, a Catholic could get divorced, a Jew could eat bacon, and a housewife could get a job. A ... well, pretty much anyone could do most anything. Maybe not at first, and certainly not without ridicule if you chose do something really silly -- but the choice was yours.

In America, you were free.

Here was a New World. No kings, no knights, no dukes, no earls. No titles, no shackles, no pales of settlement. Some of us, shamefully, owned slaves. But when push came to shove, Americans were willing to kill and die to make other men free. It was true in the Civil War. It was true in World War Two. It remains true today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We were never perfect, but we were always working on it -- at least when we weren't trying to make a buck, or maybe just trying to avoid attention. America was the land of promise, and the land that delivered on that promise.

American freedom was a huge, sprawling, messy, brawling thing. It consumed everything and anything, and spewed out an unimaginable bounty. For some, the freedom was about growing their business and making money. For others, it was about growing their hair and making love. But it was always here, for anyone willing to risk the journey and leave behind the Old World and its old ways.

But now that we have this wonderful place, this precious idea -- what are we doing with it?

Already, the government runs our children's education and our parents' retirement. Now we're allowing it to usurp our banks and nationalize what remains of our auto industries. Within weeks, Washington promises a plan to dictate our health care. To do all this, we've let Washington run up enough red ink to impoverish our grandchildren. As if all that weren't enough, the president still found the time to kick our friends in London and Tel Aviv while courting a genocidal, election-stealing maniac in Tehran. He even gave a speech in Cairo -- that oppressed, impoverished Old World megalopolis -- in which he assured the world that America really is no better than anywhere else.

Well, once upon a time, we were.