Change We Can Believe In, Finale
Change We Can Believe In: The Rule of Law
A month ago, I wrote the 37th post in my Change We Can Believe In series, devoting it to President Obama’s signing of a five-year extension to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Once again, he had failed to follow through on the commitment he had expressed in his presidential campaign to the rule of law, this being the principal theme of the series.
Several Change posts have focused on Obama’s use of drone warfare. I hoped to have another one ready to go three weeks ago, but didn’t complete it. Then came Obama’s second inaugural address. Remember this stirring passage?
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.
That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time.
For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, we must act knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
I didn’t want to appear churlish by taking Obama to task in the afterglow of these words. So I have held my tongue, leaving the latest drone post unfinished.
Now, a little over two weeks later, I’ve decided to put this series of posts to bed. With the start of Obama’s second term, it’s time to introduce a new theme.
What should the theme be? Bear with me, please, as I search for the right one. I may try several. Coming next: my initial experiment.