Wednesday, April 13, 2011

President Obama’s “Spirited Defense of a Progressive Vision”

Since I was traveling and am now deep in the world of theatre, I missed President Obama’s much-anticipated speech on the economy and the future of the country. Steve Benen summed it up as a spirited defense of a progressive vision: “It’s called ‘liberalism.'”

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Here’s some of what the president said:

We believe, in the words of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves. And so we’ve built a strong military to keep us secure, and public schools and universities to educate our citizens. We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. We’ve supported the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire new industries. Each of us has benefitted from these investments, and we are a more prosperous country as a result.

Part of this American belief that we are all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security and dignity. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff, may strike any one of us. ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ we say to ourselves, and so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, and those with disabilities. We are a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further — we would not be a great country without those commitments. […]

The America I know is generous and compassionate; a land of opportunity and optimism. We take responsibility for ourselves and each other; for the country we want and the future we share. We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness. We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare. We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives. This is who we are.

This is not the first time President Obama has used these terms, nor is it the first time he’s come to the defense of liberal ideas. His speech at the Democratic Convention in Boston in 2004 — the speech that introduced him to the national stage — was such, as was his acceptance speech at his own nominating convention in Denver in 2008. But this time it was not just a speech to introduce or reaffirm goals; it was a speech that was a reaction to both the Ryan budget proposals and the entire Republican agenda of economic reform. In short, he’s calling them out.

A lot of people have been urging him to make such a call. I’m glad he did. Now let’s see if there is action and resolve behind them.