On Monday, Barack Obama delivered his second Inaugural Address. While the Right and the Left will argue over what was said there, here is the passage that I think embraces the struggle over not only “entitlements,” but of wages and unions, the dignity of work and the value of one’s life over another.
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
Systems that take care of our common needs free us to contribute more deeply. Teachers just want to teach, welders want weld. They do not want to be fighting their employers for job security, a livable wage or decent working conditions. That is why we need unions. The energy teachers spend fending off the barbarians nipping at their heels is energy that saps them from being outstanding teachers. Same with artists, poets, writers, musicians, journalists and philosophers. They just want to create, not worry and fight about making enough to make a living. When we rob them of their work, we rob ourselves of our own cultural advancement.
Doctors want to treat patients, not fill out forms, run small businesses and fight insurance companies. Every battle with an insurance agent robs us all of that doctor’s potential contribution to advancing health care to its exception.
Most of us will get old. Most of us will need medical care. All of us need education. When we free ourselves of that worry of how we will gain an education, survive our old age and our health, we free ourselves to live and contribute more deeply. This is not a liberal idea; this is a community idea. This is one area that our government can and should help us achieve.
It is not about cost. It is not about socialism. It is not about creating a nation of takers or Welfare Queens. It is about extracting excellence from citizens by freeing them from the anxiety of old age, student loan debt and bankruptcy due to ill health.
We should keep in mind that when the Founders drafted those documents Conservatives claw back to some almost two hundred fifty years ago, they were looking toward the future and seeing us as we are today. Perhaps we should honor them by looking forward to the country the United States of America will be in the next two hundred fifty years instead of pining to get back to the good ol’ days of the Founders.