Beware Today's Fourth of July Parade: It Will Make You a Republican!

A recent paper, published by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, claims that “exposure to Fourth of July at an early age” makes young people more likely to later vote Republican.

So before venturing out to the local Independence Day parade today, you may want to consider how your kids will cope with “exposure” to this nasty contagion.

If you’re in a red state, you should be extra wary, for as the co-authors assert (without any evidence backing their claim), “Fourth of July celebrations in Republican dominated counties may thus be more politically biased events that socialize children into Republicans.”

Turn around the minivan, and put away the hot dogs–the Independence Day parade might be “politically biased”!

If you do go, you should know that your kid will end up like Dick Cheney. Fireworks can have that effect. Don’t worry, however: Harvard’s here to help.

The general tone of the 40-page paper is that understanding the puffery and “public rituals” associated with Independence Day in America is best left to the professional social scientists who truly know such things. For example, just in case their readers might be unaware, the co-authors helpfully remind them that the academic literature defines the Fourth of July as a “day that provides a context for the celebration of an American civic religion organized around flags, parades, and the Constitution.” What a strange tribe of constitutionally-minded, Republican-leaning celebrants!

Besides offering up tendentious conclusions, an overall confusion of causation and correlation, and a strange reliance upon parade-day precipitation as an important factor in their study, the co-authors miss what much of academia today misunderstands about American patriotism. Less than preference of one political party over another, or a penchant for political pomp and circumstance, American patriotism is about the love of a country whose achievement is, as Abraham Lincoln said, “Liberty to all.”

Patriotism defies the best efforts of sophisticated models to render it statistically for the same reason that politics ultimately resists quantitative reduction: human beings are the subjects in question.

Asked in 1819 to recall what made the American Revolution remarkable, John Adams answered, “The radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.” Two generations removed from the Patriots of ’76, Adams’s fellow citizens needed a reminder of the American Revolution’s high cause and true purpose.

The Revolution was “radical” in that it went to the root of the matter–human beings have rights not because they are British, but because they are human. God is the granter of natural rights, and government their protector. To build a regime upon this revolutionary idea was new, noble–and “radical.”

On a day in which the July 4, 2011, cover story of Time features a copy of the U.S. Constitution being shredded, with the title, “Does It Still Matter?” it is important that we affirm that the only reason the Constitution matters is that its principles are permanent. The Constitution, a “frame of silver,” Lincoln said, was made for the Declaration of Independence, or “the apple of gold.” The principles of the Declaration–equality and liberty–are enshrined in the Constitution, and the two documents, like the principles they embody, should be taken together.

In 1882, Laura Ingalls recalled that on Independence Day in her small Dakota town, there was a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. And while the 15-year-old girl had the Declaration memorized (so too did her little sister, according to Laura), she came to a new realization when she heard it read aloud:

“Our father’s God, author of liberty–‘The laws of Nature and of Nature’s God’ endow you with a right to life and liberty. Then you have to keep the laws of God, for God’s law is the only thing that gives you a right to be free.”

I hate to rain on the Harvard study’s parade, but in that nugget of wisdom from a teenaged farm girl there is more wisdom than in the study’s ten thousand words.

Today, as you go to your town’s Fourth of July parade, consider John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Laura Ingalls, and you will know the meaning of America, of this day, and of the promise of our political future.

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