Maybe the real question is who, but I'll go with what anyways. I hope to convey my message as it is in my head, despite my lack of truly expressive literary skills. To begin to see how America came about, I think we need to go back, way back, in history.
Many centuries ago Rome was considered the light of the world, shining out over the dark and barbarian lands that surrounded one of the greatest and most powerful empires that ever existed in the history of man. Rome was not a monumentous machine of war, nor was it the embodiment of politics.
Rome was more aptly, an idea. An idea that was strong, yet so fragile.
While maintaining a monarch-like head, Rome was a place where the people who lived there ran their government as they ran their lives. They sent forth people to represent them in the Senate. The Senate was the link between the common people and the Emperor. The job of the Emperor and the Senate was to see to the needs of the Empire, while providing a place suitable to the peoples' wishes, without interfering with their ability to produce value to their society.
It was within this construct that Rome grew in its perceived greatness. Some surrounding areas willingly joined the Roman territories to be a part of its unique "center of the world" status. Others on the other hand chose either to defend themselves from Rome's influence, or to outright attack Rome for what they found offensive about this civilization.
As with any major civilization, greater power led to expansion through military means. The need to control the known world, and press into the unknown seems to be inherent trait of ours throughout history. Power abroad was not only thirsted for by the government as a whole, but by individuals within the government over domestic affairs. Favortism, greed, and corruption of all sorts became the name of the game. Once ruled by statesmen, Rome found itself under control of mere politicians, jockeying for more personal power at every turn. To be sure, there were members of the Senate with a more pure heart, and a desire to provide the leadership for all of Rome and her people. But as time went on, the number of good men dwindled in comparison to that of the politicians. And eventually, after peaking as power of the world, Rome began its descent, eventually crumbling. Rome remained physically, but the idea that is Rome, and what made her truly great could only be heard in faint whispers.
Many centuries later, well after the fall of Rome, the American Colonies rebirthed themselves from British control to become The United States of America, a new and sovereign nation unto itself. Freedom to operate under their own authority, to accept responsibility directly for themselves, instead of from some King 3000 miles away, was the main objective. For all the complications that society, much less a new society, bears, the former colonies now had the opportunity to start fresh. A central government was started for minimist purposes of national defense and foreign policy was created, however most power was conferred to each state to attend to its own need as they saw fit.
Like Rome, and the Greek States before them, The United States placed its representative power with the people. For the people to elect leaders from amongst its own populace, they could all be assured a voice in the process which would make America a great and desirable society. Some of these representatives were mere politicians, seeking to either maintain or expand their power, but in the beginning, Statesmen were the order of the day. Seeing to the construction of a new country, with the Constitution as its base, America held great promise for all who lived there, as well as those who should wish to join the American experiment from lands abroad.
One can argue the politics throughout the decades and centuries of our existence as a country, but one thing I do not think can be argued: America has spent her history becoming less and less free. We still have the opportunities to go from a nobody to a wealthy somebody. We still have the opportunity to travel across this great land of ours without restriction, and put down our roots where we see fit. But something has changed since the days of our forefathers. Lawmakers in Congress have increasingly found themselves justifying their positions. Law after law becomes enacted. Some with pure intention, others with more restrictive malicious intentions. We have enacted laws that are redundant to each other many times over, with selective enforcement. We have enacted laws that merely serve to provide more of the citizens' money to governmental purposes, with no real value to be seen, other than satisfy one group's opinion on how the rest of society should act.
To be sure we have enacted more laws than scenarios requiring them than could even possibly exist, at least in my mind.
Everyone has their own version of their America. For some it is the simple desire to live in their house, earn their own living and to be left alone. For others, it is to see that all Americans are taken care of, be it with healthcare, or for more mundane services we take for granted, like satisfactory water and sewage processing systems, or access to education, housing, food, or whatever one's needs might be.
For me, I blend my personal rights with community needs. I wish to live where I want to, and the choice to determine how I make my money. I believe that the harder I work, the more I should be rewarded. I should not be punished for my productive values. I believe in helping those around me that are in need, by my own volition, not by government mandate. I find local, more personal options to seeing my neighbors do well enough as a good thing. For if my neighbors do well, surely so will I. All that contribute to a better society around them, should share int he rewards such harmony may bring. All those who choose to harm it, shall keep the consequences for themselves. I believe in some regulation, but only enough to keep us from harming each other, and it must be applied equally to all parties.
For being the most free country on Earth, it often seems that in other lands as mentioned by Scott, practice what we call a more socialized government operation (despite having less far reaching regulations over every little thing), that the people there are more free than we are here in America.
I know the world is not black and white, and our ideas of perfection will most likely never be attained, and/or they may change as we grow through experience. I know that in my heart, I am an idealist of sorts, which will aways leave me wanting. But what we live in today, is not the America is was taught to believe in as I grew up.