Thomas Paine, the ardent revolutionist who wrote Common Sense, the pamphlet that rang the bells for America's War of Independence from England, died in New York a jaded loner and a man virtually without a country. The same colonists, whose blood he had brought to a boil against Great Britain, turned against him in the end. His support of the French Revolution, known for its horrific excesses, was not appreciated in America and, more than that, his subsequent work, The Age of Reason, was taken by many as a mean-spirited, iconoclastic assault upon Christian beliefs and values. There is no doubt that old Tom, as much as the times in which he lived, also tried men's souls. Barely more than a dozen mourners joined his funeral procession from Greenwich Village to New Rochelle, New York. He was transformed from célébrité to persona non grata in the span of a few short decades.

But this fact notwithstanding, Paine was a virtuoso with a divine gift.  He had, in short, a remarkable way with words. In his legendary pamphlet, he proclaimed to the American people an idea that he had distilled into a simple assertion, the power of which stirred the imagination and transfixed the heart: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again." What a way to beat the drums for revolution! Ponder these words, and then reflect upon how colonists must have received them. "Here is a chance," they thought, "yes, a chance, to escape the vile tyrannies that have long gripped Britain and Europe. No more inequality based upon circumstances of birth. Ours can be a country in which all chains -- socially, politically, and economically -- are broken! Here before our eyes and in our very hands is an opportunity not given to human beings since the first of them peopled the planet. It is within our power to start anew, 'to begin the world over again.' God grant us the courage to do it!"

As Americans contemplate Paine's clarion call to freedom against the backdrop of the last two centuries of our history, many are no longer as sanguine about our prospects as he was.  We live in a country that is disillusioned and is growing more so by the day.  America's cultural fabric is frayed and beginning to unravel. Many good people believe that, if the present state of our nation proves anything, it is that the new creation envisioned by Paine is beleaguered beyond its years and succumbing to the same dreaded problems as the "old world" from which our forebears thought they had escaped.

Others will interject at this point, "That assessment is far too negative. Sure, we have problems, but what country doesn't? We are still 'the last best hope on earth.'" 

If I am not mistaken about the way in which I interpret the words of the disillusioned, it is not that they are declaring America to be less than the most superlative country on earth. What they are attempting instead to underscore is that the nation is becoming a place they no longer recognize. I do not know about you, but I myself these days often feel like a resident alien in my own country.

Think about it:  the federal government is now a virulent cancer that continues to grow, it seems, with every succeeding administration.  Does anyone really believe that John McCain or Barack Obama will change this?  Government has become an authoritarian presence in our lives, exacting taxes that are extortionate, dictating who can be hired and on what terms, seizing as it wishes privately-held real property, and even refusing to safeguard the same from an onslaught of invaders to the south of us.  United States citizens living within a hundred miles of the border have most certainly been left to  protect themselves, their families, and their property.  Our federal prisons are teeming with illegals, for whom American incarceration is far more luxurious than anything they experienced in their native countries.  

The American citizenry give Congress an approval rating of a scant nine percent. Can you believe that? It is close to universal condemnation!  Thanks to a fuel crisis, these "public servants" now find themselves in a reactive posture and seem incapable of anything more substantive than fast-talking and photo-ops. 

At least seventy percent of the citizenry think the President has failed them too. Let's face it, most national politicians are perceived as egomaniacal opportunists, who often pass off the really tough political decisions to the Supreme Court. The justices are appointed for life and are immune to the healthy pressures of public opinion. These venerable jurists can always find a legal angle somewhere, and they readily accept their enhanced power. Would you really expect restraint? 

Speaking again of the fuel crisis, the price of a gallon of gasoline has more than doubled in a year, and there is no sign of an abatement in sight.  Living in a fuel-based economy means that all costs across the board are rapidly escalating as well.   If this were not enough, industries and banks may be demonstrating signs of failure.  Brace yourselves, baby boomers, your retirement may indeed be rocky! 

Increased poverty is being imported into our "welfare state" on a daily basis, thanks to special "behind-the-scenes" influence exerted upon politicians by corporate titans. These fat cats live in regal splendor within the continental confines of the United States, managing their multi-national companies, in which the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at shareholders' meetings is deemed off-limits. They love cheap labor, and they could care less that jobs that once belonged to Americans have been, and are being, outsourced by the thousands. The resulting surfeit of profits do little more than pad their already bulging pockets.

In the meantime, the gloriously courageous media help us to mitigate our pain by continuing to treat us to stories about the latest episodes in the lives of degenerate Hollywood stars. Many good people wake up in the morning ready to be informed, but when they open the newspaper or turn on the television, they get another heaping helping of Madonna or some steroid-gulping athlete!

What do you suspect Thomas Paine would say about this catastrophic state of affairs?  It is a safe bet that, whatever course his explanation might take, it would be peppered with references to George III, Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette.  I can almost hear the pamphleteer screaming, "Corruption!  Tyranny!"

So, we might ask, how should Paine's words about re-creating the world be heard today?  Are they testimony to a lost dream?  Should they be a symbol of vanishing optimism?  Must we wave farewell to America and to the values for which she has long stood? No, in spite of seemingly insurmountable problems, we must interpret Paine's words now just as they were interpreted then – as a call for a new beginning! The light has not yet been extinguished in this country.   

Yet we patriots must be empowered; we must be heard.  We must pull together and form a single united front. We must be willing to be politically incorrect and to think outside the liberal-secular box. Our slogan should be, "No longer business as usual!"  We should wake up, break the chains, and be counted. The time is now!

July 23, 2008