by Gene on January 24, 2013
President Obama answered the excessive self-congratulatory and self-centered politics of the Paul Ryans, Mitt Romneys, and Tea Partiers who hold sway over today’s Republican Party with forceful and clear statements of how this country has triumphed over adversity and progressed from a small, experimental, slave-holding nation more than 200 years ago, to become the most powerful and important nation to have ever existed on the planet.
If there was one word in the speech that conveys his message, it was “together.” We will not build the infrastructure needed in the 21st century city by city or state by state, but as a unified whole. We cannot leave the protection of the “vulnerable” and neediest to the good will of every state. We must act together, as a nation.
We cannot expect every state to ensure the freedom and “pursuit of happiness” for every person without a national commitment. If there had been no federal action, in some states there might still be segregation, laws against inter-racial marriage, no social security insurance to help people as they get older, no Medicare and certainly no promise of universal (or near-universal) health insurance. One often hears people who oppose laws that benefit people who are unlike themselves say that “you cannot legislate morality.” On the contrary, that is often the only way to bring it about. As the President said, “We must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because …our time…requires the constant advance of…tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.”
President Obama understands that we won two world wars by working together; that we won the Cold War by standing together when most needed; that we created the first great middle class by allowing unions to protect its worker members; that public education, public roads and transportation, consumer protection, health protection and so many other cornerstones of an advanced society resulted from laws that enhance all people, together. As he said, these things “do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take risks that make this country great.”
In his address he took stands for women’s rights, gay rights, voting rights, immigrants’ rights; for protecting our planet; and protecting our children. He also acknowledged that progress is often incremental. But some progress is better than none at all.
There are many forces of ignorance and intolerance that will fight him at every step. I hope that even the most backward-looking Republicans recognize that it is in their self-interest to compromise with the President and do what is right, no matter how much it hurts.