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Barack Obama  is a U.S. senator from Illinois. These remarks are excerpted from a speech Obama delivered at the Take Back America conference  on June 14, 2006. Click here  to watch a video of the speech.
We meet at a time where we find ourselves at a crossroads in American history. It’s a time where you can go into any town hall or veterans’ hall or coffee shop or street corner and you’ll hear people express the same anxiety about the future. You’ll hear them convey the same uncertainty about the direction that we’re headed as a country. Whether it’s the war or Katrina or health care or outsourcing, you’ll hear people say that, now, surely we’ve come to a moment where things have to change. And there are Americans who still believe in an
I remember when I first ran for the state senate – this was my very first race – back in
And the question is understandable and it bears on today because even those of us who are involved, even those of us who are active in the political process and in civic life, there are times where all of us feel discouraged sometimes, where we get cynical about the prospects for politics because it seems as if sometimes that politics is treated as a business and not a mission, and that power is always trumping principle, and that we have leaders that are sometimes long on rhetoric but short on substance, and so we get discouraged. And every two years or fours years maybe we do our bit and we knock on doors or pass our literature, or we go into the polling place and hold our noses and vote for the lesser of two evils, but we don’t feel in our gut sometimes that politics and government is going to improve our lives. At most we hope it does us no harm.
And I am not immune to those feelings. But, you know, when I get in that funk, I think about a person I met the day before I was elected to the United States Senate …[M]y staff comes up to me and says, senator, before you go up, there’s this woman who wants to meet you. And she’s driven a long way and she’s a big supporter and she just wants to take a picture with you and shake your hand. And I say, well, that’s not a problem. And so I go offstage to a back room and I meet this woman. She explains that she has supported me since I announced for my race. She shakes my hand, we take a picture, she tells me that’s she’s proud of me. And she had already cast her ballot at that point absentee, and she was really appreciative of the work that I was doing and wished me Godspeed.
And none of this would have been exceptional except for the fact that this woman, named Marguerite Lewis, had been born in
And she believed in this idea of
She had seen enough over the span of three centuries to know that there’s no challenge that is too great or no injustice too crippling or no destiny that is too far out of reach for
And I think we face one of those moments today in a century that is just six years old. Our faith has been shaken by war and terror and disaster and despair and threats to the middle-class dream and scandal and corruption in our government. The sweeping changes brought by revolutions and technology have torn down the walls between business and government and people and places all over the globe. And with this new world comes new risks and new dangers. The days are over where we can assume that a high school education is enough to compete with for a job that could just as easily go to a college educated student in
But while the world has changed around us, unfortunately it seems like our government has stood still. Our faith has been shaken, but the people running
I don’t think that – I think George Bush loves this country. I really do. I don’t think his administration is “full” of stupid people. ... The problem is not that the philosophy of this administration is not working the way it’s supposed to work; the problem is that it is working the way it’s supposed to work. They don’t believe – they don’t believe that government has a role in solving national problems because they think government is the problem. They think that we’re better off if we just dismantle government; if, in the form of tax breaks, we make sure that everybody’s responsible for buying your own health care and your own retirement security and your own child care and your own schools, your own private security forces, your own roads, your own levees.
It is called the “ownership society” in
It’s a bracing idea, this idea that you’re on your own. It’s the simplest thing in the world, easy to put on a bumper sticker. But there’s just one problem; it doesn’t work. It ignores our history. Now, yes, our greatness as a nation has depended on self-reliance and individual initiative and a belief in the free market, but it’s also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, our sense that we have a stake in each other’s success – that everybody should have a shot at opportunity.
Americans understand this. They know the government can’t solve all their problems, but they expect the government can help because they know it’s an expression of what they’re learning in Sunday school. What they learn in their church, in their synagogue, in their mosque – a basic moral precept that says that I have to look out for you and I have responsibility for you and you have responsibility for me, that I am your keeper and you are mine. That’s what
And so I am eager to have this argument with the Republican Party about the core philosophy of
We know we’re the party – we know that as progressives we believe in affordable health care for all Americans – and that we’re going to make sure that Americans don’t have to choose between a health care plan that bankrupts the government and one that bankrupts families, the party that won’t just throw a few tax breaks at families who can’t afford their insurance, but will modernize our health care system and give every family a chance to buy insurance at a price they can afford.
Progressives are the folks who believe in energy independence for
We understand, as progressives, that we need a tough foreign policy, but we know the other side has a monopoly on the tough-and-dumb strategy; we’re looking for the tough-and-smart strategy – one that battles the forces of terrorism and fundamentalism but understands that it’s not just a matter of military might alone, that we’ve got to match it with the power of our diplomacy and the strength of our alliances and the power of our ideals, and that when we do go to war, we should be honest with the American people about why we’re there and how we expect to win.
We understand as progressives that we believe in open and honest government that doesn’t peddle the agenda of whichever lobbyist or special interest can write the biggest check. And if we believe in all these things, and if we act on it, then I guarantee you