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Smerconish: Yes, there's room for improvement, but America is still great

By Michael SmerconishFollow @smerconish Let me finish tonight with this.Tomorrow, of course, is the Fourth of July.

By Michael SmerconishFollow @smerconish 

Let me finish tonight with this.

Tomorrow, of course, is the Fourth of July. Many of us will celebrate living in the greatest country on earth. We take that as a given.

But is it? Last night, after guest hosting for Chris, I went home, and watched the latest episode of the new Aaron Sorkin television program. It's called The Newsroom and airs on HBO on Sunday nights. It was interesting for me last night to leave a cable newsroom and then go watch his adaptation of one.   

The central character Will McAvoy is played by Jeff Daniels. He's an anchor with attitude. In the first episode, he unloads in front of a college audience and is very critical of the United States.

He says we're not the greatest country in the world. He says we lead in just a few areas, like our incarceration rate, religious beliefs and defense spending. He says we act like we are the only country with freedom. But he says that there are 207 countries and 180 of them have freedom. Then he rattles off statistics where we lag behind. Finally, in impassioned speech, he says we used to be great. 

"We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed. We cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world's greatest artists, and the world's greatest economy... The first step in solving any problem is recognizing that there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore."

The show is fiction, but it makes you think. And I disagree with him. We've got lots of room for improvement, to be sure, but I'd argue the country is still great and has only exhibited weakness recently as a result of ceding leadership to its fringes, which has yielded partisan gridlock and malaise.  

Pick the issue — that which ails us is solvable when the best we have to offer work together for the common good. But America loses her advantage when compromise becomes a dirty word, when shouting is valued over dialogue, and when reasonable minds surrender the stage to charlatans. When Americans focus on that which unites us, we are unstoppable.  

Happy Birthday, America.