We honor the strivers, the dreamers, the risk- takers, the entrepreneurs who have always been the driving force behind our free enterprise system, the greatest engine of growth and prosperity that the world's ever known.Before I get into the depth of how President Obama used that concept I want to say that from what I've read and seen so far, Melissa Harris-Perry was the only one to recognize why the use of that word would be especially important for this President. Last night in commenting on the speech at MSNBC she pointed out that what he was saying is that citizenship is about something more than birth certificates. KA-BOOM! Shoot and score.
But we also believe in something called citizenship — citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, a word at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations.
And if it means something more than birth certificates, it also has a special meaning to the millions of young DREAMers in our country who might have been watching last night. It means that citizenship is about something more than where you were born.
So what does it mean?
We, the people — recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.Those who have listened to what President Obama has said over the years will recognize this theme. For a long time now his speeches almost always include an embrace not only of our individual responsibility but our collective responsibility to one another.
As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That's what we believe.
His emphasis on this idea of citizenship last night though went to a different level than it has before. As he talked about in the first part of his speech, this election is about a choice between two sets of values. At the very heart of that choice - beyond all the different policies - is this idea of whether or not we as Americans will maintain a commitment to "what can be done by us, together..."
That kind of talk is a direct hit to the theme of the Republican convention which was to suggest that success is only about what we do for ourselves on our own. Everyone - even Mitt Romney - knows that's a lie.
And so regardless of what particular policies we want to talk about, nothing gets solved until we get this one right. President Obama told us what happens if we abdicate our sense of collective responsibility by not engaging in "the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government."
If you turn away now — if you turn away now, if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn't possible, well, change will not happen. If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void, the lobbyists and special interests, the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are trying to make it harder for you to vote, Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry or control health care choices that women should be making for themselves. Only you can make sure that doesn't happen. Only you have the power to move us forward.What is stunning to me is that this is a President who is actually trying to take himself out of the spotlight. He wasn't attempting to wow us with all the things he will do for us in a second term. Perhaps that's why some pundits are suggesting that his speech last night wasn't the kind of soaring rhetoric they expected.
He knows that if we're going to get there, it isn't going to be about one or two terms for President Barack Obama...
And while I'm proud of what we've achieved together, I'm far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, "I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go."... Its going to be because we figure out the long game of what citizenship and self government are all about.
America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won't promise that now. Yes, our path is harder, but it leads to a better place. Yes, our road is longer, but we travel it together.In other words, he's beginning the process of passing the torch to us.
We don't turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories. And we learn from our mistakes. But we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon knowing that providence is with us and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on earth.