Yesterday at his town hall in Reno, the President ended his remarks with this:
This isn’t a matter of charity; it’s a matter of what we think it is to live in a good society. And I think it is good for me, it is good for my life if when I’m driving around, I’m saying to myself, you know what, that school is producing all kinds of kids who are smart and are going to help build America’s future.
And I drive around and I see some seniors, and they’re out for a walk. And I know, you know what, I’m glad that I live in a country where in their retirement years, they’re going to be secure. That makes me feel good. That’s the kind of country I want to live in. That’s the kind of country you want to live in. And we’ve got to make sure we’re willing to fight for it.
It reminded me of a speech we all remember that he gave way back in 2004.
For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people.
If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child.
If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandparent.
If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.
It is that fundamental belief -- it is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work.
It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: "E pluribus unum," out of many, one.
I believe this is the core challenge of our times. In the particulars, it looks like we're fighting over medicare, or taxes, or immigration, or education, or budgets, or unions, or religion, or birth certificates. On and on the list goes.
But in the end...we're trying to decide whether or not we are our brothers' and sisters' keeper - if that is the kind of country we want for ourselves and future generations.
Answering that question in the affirmative will require us to set aside some childish things, like selfishness, and begin to act like the grown-ups John F. Kennedy challenged us to be so many years ago...
Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.
UPDATE: From President Obama's speech last night in Los Angeles:
My vision is for one where...we live up to the idea that no matter what you look like or where you come from, whether you landed here — your ancestors landed here on Ellis Island or they came here on a slave ship, or they just came over the Rio Grande, that we are all connected to one another and we all rise and fall together.