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.
Like most liberals, I’m still basking in the glow of yesterday’s Inaugural Address. It was the finest speech of President Obama’s career, and one the best inaugural speeches of the last century, on par with Roosevelt and Kennedy. It was historic in its inclusion of Gay Rights as the civil rights issue of our generation, and in its strong call to action on climate change. It was a clear and forceful defense of progressive values and government. It was exactly what the President needed to say.
And it is exactly what we all hope his actions will reflect, because we’ve been waiting a long time.
Seventy years ago there was a progressive vision of America that foresaw a nation of true opportunity and equality. Where the common man would hold economic and political power. A nation of innovators that would focus technology for the good of society. Where trade and commerce would build wealth for all.
That vision lived in FDR’s Vice President, Henry A. Wallace.
“We all want jobs, health, security, freedom, business opportunity, good education and peace. We can sum this all up in one word and say that what America wants is pursuit of happiness. Each individual American before he dies wants to express all that is in him. He wants to work hard. He wants to play hard. He wants the pleasures of a good home with education for his children. He wants to travel and on occasion to rest and enjoy the finer things of life. The common man thinks he is entitled to the opportunity of earning these things. He wants all the physical resources of the nation transformed by human energy and human knowledge into the good things of life, the sum total of which spells peace and happiness. He knows he cannot have such peace and happiness if the means of earning peace and happiness are denied to any man on the basis of race or creed.
We have the materials to work with. We have the science and technical skills to direct our work. We have innumerable desires for goods and services that we are able to supply. All we need is good management and harmony, less grabbing for ourselves, and more cooperation for the general welfare. Legitimate self-interest can be realized in no other way. By working together for victory in war we have made a resounding success. By working together for the common good in peace we can get results beyond what most Americans have dared to hope.”
And that vision withered in 1944 when anti-union party bosses replaced Henry Wallace on the ballot with a hack from Missouri named Harry Truman.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Wallace was a fierce defender of the common man. Though eccentric and idealistic, he was a powerful liberal voice working tirelessly to implement social programs and demanding more equality and access to democracy for all citizens. Had he become President, our nation would be a very different place today.
Wallace’s vision did not die, nor did liberals stop fighting for it. We had some huge successes here at home, though our foreign policy was a disaster. It wasn’t until 1980 that the lights went out, and we’ve been struggling in the dark for the last thirty years.
Now after all this time, seeing a Democratic President stand and defend that vision, as clouded as it is, is like a warm fire on a frigid dawn.
For any of you who haven’t had the opportunity to watch any of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States, you should really watch it. It’s fascinating, and well worth your time.