From a speech by Barack Obama: It’s the timidity of politics that’s holding us back right now – the politics of can’t-do and oh-well. An energy crisis that jeopardizes our security and our economy? No magic wand to fix it, we’re told. Thousands of jobs vanishing overseas? It’s actually healthier for the economy that way. Three days late to the worst natural disaster in American history? Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.
And of course, if nothing can be done to solve the problems we face, if we have no collective responsibility to look out for one another, then the next logical step is to give everyone one big refund on their government – divvy it up into individual tax breaks, hand ‘em out, and encourage everyone to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own child care, their own schools, their own roads, their own levees…
We know this as the Ownership Society. But in our past there has been another term for it – Social Darwinism – every man or women for him or herself. It allows us to say to those whose health care or tuition may rise faster than they can afford – tough luck. It allows us to say to the child who was born into poverty – pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It let’s us say to the workers who lose their job when the factory shuts down – you’re on your own.
But there is a problem. It won’t work. It ignores our history. Yes, our greatness as a nation has depended on individual initiative, on a belief in the free market. But it has also depended 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.