THE BLOG
07/04/2006 03:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Should Max Cleland, John Kerry, John McCain, Joe Wilson, John Murtha and the 9/11 Widows Be Allowed to Celebrate the Fourth of July?

It's just a thought. But one worth asking ourselves and worth interrupting today's festivities for. Because the collection of Americans above, a collection of American heroes, showcases the best, and the worst, our country can be.

The best because each showed courage, determination, and strength in a time of war or adversity and each, in their own way, served our country with distinction and honor. And yet, each has been attacked, smeared and had their patriotism called into question. Some have been so viciously attacked that somewhere out there, in this great country of ours, somebody is thinking that they don't deserve the chance to celebrate the Fourth of July. Sadly, that's the nation we've become.

Today, we are a country where freedom of speech and the right to dissent, cornerstones of our democracy, have been replaced with the political strategy of personal destruction where a man or woman's service is nothing more than a political smear opportunity.

We have become a country where dissent is no longer the greatest form of patriotism, to borrow from Thomas Jefferson. Today, dissent is the greatest form of opportunity for a political opponent to label you as unpatriotic or un-American when nothing could be further from the truth.

Today, we are a country where draft-dodgers are the "supporters of the military" and deferment-kings are the ones who "understand what it means to be at war" while true heroes and veterans who ask legitimate questions with the troops true best interests at heart are piously labeled as "cut and runners."

Who's to blame for this? Who do we look to on this Fourth of July? A day when Max Cleland will enjoy his Fourth of July feast as much, if not more, than the rest of us even if someone else will have to shuck his lobster for him as my good friend John Gorman did so poignantly on Cape Cod a few years ago. Who's to blame for Max being destroyed and beaten because he, of all people, was portrayed as weak on national security?

You are. I am. We all are. We give life to the lies. We have allowed the gray area of our political culture to flourish for far too long. We need to hold ourselves and the media accountable to the truth. We need to determine when there is another side to the story and when the other side is nothing more than calculated lies and smears. John Kerry volunteered for the Navy. He volunteered for Vietnam. And for Swift Boat duty. He received three Purple Hearts -- end of story. The lies and smears of political opponents didn't deserve the oxygen they were given. Outright lies do not make the other side of a news story. They are just lies.

John McCain not only served in Vietnam, he spent seven years as a POW there -- imagine what those Fourth of Julys must have been like -- in a cell in a prison on the other side of the world. But when he ran for office and had great momentum in the early primary season of 2000, the rumors were floated. His imprisonment had left him 'crazy' and 'unfit for command.'

Joe Wilson, a Republican ambassador who had served his country with great distinction, who actually did face down Saddam Hussein, was viciously attacked along with his family. Why? Because he did the duty assigned to him by his country and told the truth.

John Murtha. A Democratic Congressman who before last November was universally lauded as being a stalwart supporter of the troops. But when this decorated veteran came to the conclusion that it was time for our men and women to come home from Iraq, he was attacked and even called a "candidate for murder."

Ever so often, society's commentators lament that there aren't any American heroes left. I disagree. We have plenty of heroes among us. We just need to be a little better about recognizing them.

The 9/11 Widows for example. They sent their husbands to work on a beautiful Tuesday morning almost five years ago and have been serving our country ever since. They asked the simple question, "why did our husbands die?"and "what do we have to do to make sure this never happens again?" They deserve our gratitude -- never our scorn.

Freedom of speech and the right to dissent not fear-mongering and the politics of personal destruction made this the greatest country on earth. This Fourth of July, we should all, each and every one of us, vow to never forget that simple fact.

America's Birthday Today at www.patriotproject.com twenty veterans who are running for office this November have all written about what this country means to them. It's a remarkable collection of posts from a remarkable collection of candidates.