Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The conscience of the nation

Bill Moyers is the conscience of America. Consider the commencement address he delivered at Southern Methodist last week.

Some highlights:
"America’s a great promise but it’s a broken promise.

"It’s not right that we are entering the fifth year of a war started on a suspicion. Whatever your party or politics, my young friends, America can’t sustain a war begun under false pretenses because it is simply immoral to ask people to go on dying for the wrong reasons.

"America needs fixing. Our system of government is badly broken.

"You are leaving here as our basic constitutional principles are under assault – the rule of law, an independent press, independent courts, the separation of church and state, and the social contract itself. I am sure you learned about the social contract here at SMU. It’s right there in the Constitution – in the Preamble: “We, the People” – that radical, magnificent, democratic, inspired and exhilarating idea that we are in this together, one for all and all for one.

"For all the chest-thumping about rugged individuals and self-made men, it was the imperative and ethic of cooperation that forged America. Laissez faire – 'Leave me alone' – didn’t work. We had to move from the philosophy of 'Live and let live' to 'Live and help live.' You see, civilization is not a natural act. Civilization is a veneer of civility stretched across primal human appetites. Like democracy, civilization has to be willed, practiced, and constantly repaired, or society becomes a war of all against all.

In l960 the gap in wealth between the top 20% of our country and the bottom 20% was thirty fold. Now it is 75 fold. Stock prices and productivity are up, and CEO salaries are soaring, but ordinary workers aren’t sharing in the profits they helped generate. Their incomes aren’t keeping up with costs. More Americans live in poverty – 37 million, including l2 million children. Twelve million children! Despite extraordinary wealth at the top, America’s last among the highly developed countries in each of seven measures of inequality. Our GDP outperforms every country in the world except Luxembourg. But among industrialized nations we are at the bottom in functional literacy and dead last in combating poverty. Meanwhile, regular Americans are working longer and harder than workers in any other industrial nation, but it’s harder and harder for them to figure out how to make ends meet…how to send the kids to college…and how to hold on securely in their old age. If we’re all in this together, what’s a civilized response to these disparities?

America’s a broken promise. America needs fixing.

I often see something in print and Publish Postask myself, "Why didn't I say that?" In Bill Moyers' case, I read his words and ask myself, "Why didn't I think that?"

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