Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Election Should Be About Who We Are, Not What We Want

We want a strong economy with lots of good jobs, a life secure from terrorist attacks, a just peace in Iraq and Afghanistan, a good reputation with our allies, and a program that responsibly deals with climate change. These are all important, and there are differences between the candidates and parties in the success they are likely to have in fulfilling these desires.

We are, however, not in a crisis situation. Compare the situation now with that of the situation Roosevelt faced in 1940, with the Great Depression continuing and a World War soon to engulf the United States. Think of the situation faced by Lincoln in 1860, with a nation divided between slave and free states, about to embark on a Civil War of unprecedented violence. Think of Washington assuming the presidency after the Articles of Confederation had proven inadequate, needing to create a national government that could bring together a bunch of sparsely populated colonies into a strong nation that could stand up against the European powers.

Our nation is economically sound, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are limited and likely to wind down. Terrorism against the United States was overestimated, and can be controlled by good police work. We have lived for years with the other problems we face, and can continue to do so if we must. Either party would, if elected, put good men into office and they would work hard at their jobs. We could live with even limited success in meeting our wants over the next four years.

The Bush administration, however, has challenged fundamentally who we are as a people. Are we a people who torture prisoners, or who ship them off to be tortured by others? Do we impression people without recourse to legal process? Do we accept a government that spies on our own citizens and abrogates protections of their rights built over centuries? Are we a people that respects the individual's rights, or do we allow a religious minority to restrict the choice of others and to limit the search for and dissemination of scientific knowledge. Is the United States a nation of immigrants, a melting pot that offers opportunities to others, or is it a mean spirited closed society rejecting immigrants seeking a better life? Is the United States a bully in international affairs, pushing smaller weaker countries around, or are we good neighbors and a responsible member of the community of nations. Is our foreign policy responsive to the concerns of our allies and willing to discuss our differences with others, or are we too arrogant to listen? Are we still the people who have striven for centuries to grant human rights and dignity to all our citizens, or will we use code words to hide our unwillingness to grant real power to women and minorities? Are we a nation that honors and supports our veterans, or are we a people willing to deny our returning soldiers, wounded in body or mind, the medical care to which they are entitled; are we still the people who gave our veterans educational opportunities after the wars of the 20th century or are we now a people too mean to do so? Are we a people who bends our national efforts to the defense of the weak and needy among us, or are we rather a nation that seeks to further enrich the already rich without regard to either our poor or our middle class. Are we a people, inheritors of a land of huge beauty and resource riches, who seek to conserve that heritage for our children and grandchildren, or shall we destroy the environment in a rush for short term profits? Are we still a people willing to sacrifice for our country and pay for our government, or are we now selfish borrowers satisfied to leave a crippling debt for our children. Are we the world's most innovative people, or will we now be satisfied to continue to beggar ourselves and our children by depending on foreign oil while watching other nations out compete us in a global economy? Will we accept Hurricane Katrina as the first in a series of disasters for our poor and dispossessed, or will we demand that it be a wakeup call to prevent such suffering in the aftermaths of future disasters? Are we a people who will now accept an imperial presidency, or are we the people who rejected monarchy and built the most elaborate checks and balances into our constitution to prevent an excess of power in the presidency.

We have an opportunity now to reject the Bush administration's destruction of our national moral purposes that so characterized the last eight years, and to restore the ideals of our forefathers to their former central place in our public life. Will we as a people again become what we once were? If we do not do so now, then when?

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