A long time ago-well, 2006, which certainly feels like a long time ago-Holly and I helped our colleagues at the Opportunity Agenda with an early articulation of their “Opportunity Frame” by creating a communications toolkit for them. One of my contributions to the kit was a look at commencement speech given by a recently-elected U.S. Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
In it, Obama tells a story about America, and the competing visions that have marked our politics since the beginning. The “Ownership Society” of radical individualism, the free market, and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. And the opposing idea that our success as a nation depends on our sense of mutual regard for each other, the idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we’re all in it together and everybody’s got a shot at opportunity.
Re-reading that speech now, after years marked by crisis and hope, wars ended and ongoing, sweeping change and political gridlock, economic collapse and a painfully slow recovery, I’m struck by how central that vision remains to Obama’s case for a second term- and how much this whole election reflects the debate he described at Knox College in the summer of 2005. One could hardly ask for a purer standard bearer for the “Ownership Society” than Willard “Mitt” Romney.
I’m also struck by Obama’s stark acknowledgement of mistakes made along the way- failures of will, failures of imagination, moral failings that have set us back on the journey towards “a more perfect union.” I’m sure each of us can point to disappointments in the failures of the last four years. For me, they’re best represented by drone strikes and Guantanamo Bay, and my fear that the national security state bequeathed to Obama isn’t going away any time soon.
But there’s no denying the successes of those years, as well. Health care for millions of Americans, policy changes that help ensure equal pay for equal work, that allow our gay and lesbian service members to serve openly, and that let our young immigrant neighbors come out of the shadows. New regulations on the banks that caused the financial crisis, and a new government agency created to look out for the rights of consumers. Each of these changes represents progress, however halting and incomplete, just as certainly as each is under threat in today’s election.
But this post is not meant as an endorsement of any one candidate alone. Rather, it’s an endorsement of voting itself- helping to decide the direction of this ongoing, imperfect experiment of a country that we call home. And more importantly, it’s an endorsement of all those candidates and policies that recognize our responsibility to our neighbors-those that support justice, equality and opportunity for all-and those that believe in “our sense of mutual regard for each other.”
We’re all in this together. Now get out there and vote.
(Image courtesy Sierra Club California)
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Heath Wickline has already voted today. Have you?