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The flash of Red, White, and Blue means nothing for a better America without an active you as we face government creep, economic crisis, and social woes

Over the next several days, we will be inundated with references to the greatness of America. With the annual celebration of our national birthday, there is also an annual showcase of old glory, new fireworks, and time-tested gestures of pride.

Yet, as we look at our national transformation from flawed colonies to global superpower over 238 years, it behooves us to ask some fundamental questions and apply the answers to today’s dilemmas.

On the 4th of July, are we celebrating the American people, the American form of government, or the American government itself?

Remember that as we celebrate our diverse people, our robust resources, and our Constitution, we must also acknowledge the blurring lines between how the government represents us and how government runs on despite us. For example, despite single-digit approval rate for the United States Congress in 2012, the re-election rate for incumbents stood at over 90 percent. If the angst of the people can be so easily cast aside, can our representative government truly reflect the will of the people? Can it honor a constitution that protects our God-given rights?

We have seen a troubling expansion of government power over recent times. That includes the right for the military to kill American citizens without constitutionally-protected due process. It also includes the ability of the federal government to collect massive amounts of personal information on everyday Americans without probable cause. Is our annual 4th of July celebration an acknowledgment of freedom afforded by our founding fathers and brave citizens over many generations, or has it become a mere sign of deference to the might of our military, the size of our government, and a sign of our modern times?

JFK famously asked us 5 decades ago to do more as citizens during his inaugural address. But today, we have to wonder: are we more caught up in being patriotic during war time, the Olympics, or the World Cup than we are in being patriotic citizens daily? President Reagan said that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. Yet, in the wake of the NSA and IRS controversies and on the heels of the on-going War on Terrorism and the Patriot Act, are our freedoms slowly eroding away?

We have to ask on this 4th of July as we sit around the grill and watch the fireworks overhead: what does it mean to be called a patriot these days, and what does it mean– in the truest sense of the word – to be an American?

President Thomas Jefferson is credited as saying, “…a government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take away everything that you have…” As we argue about the former through things such as Obamacare, unemployment benefits, and corporate welfare, perhaps we should make sure that we do not lose sight of the latter – losing everything that is truly ours to an over-expansive government – before a government big enough to push our patriotism oversees a nation less of us engage as active, powerful, and truly patriotic citizens.

Lenny McAllister is a political analyst and commentator featured on various local, national and international outlets including Al Jazeera America, CNN, the American Urban Radio Network, and Sun News Network. The Pittsburgh-based pundit hosts and produces NightTalk: Get to the Point on the Pittsburgh Cable News Channel on Friday nights at 8pm. He is also a host at Newsradio 1020 KDKA in Pittsburgh. You can follow the former WVON The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM host on Twitter and Facebook.