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Good government should not be the exception that proves the rule. For fifty years after the Great Depression, Americans enjoyed responsible government and the nation prospered. Despite wars abroad and civil unrest at home, while carrying much of the burden of winning the Cold War, Americans prospered. Republicans and Democrats argued and competed in legitimate political debate, but worked together to draft necessary legislation in Congress.  Civil rights were extended and protected; the aged, the infirm and most needy were guaranteed access to health care; we built a space program from scratch and set a man on the moon within a decade. Deficits were kept low and fiscal responsibility was maintained despite ever increasing demands upon government.

Back then, America worked. Today, America is broken.

Average Americans haven’t seen real wages increase in a decade, while the worst excesses of the Gilded Age are recreated in boardrooms across the nation. The new American dream is to hold on the job you have, whatever it maybe, to avoid the pit of destitution and unemployment. Health care coverage is so tenuous that loss of employment means loss of coverage, and sickness is the quickest road to bankruptcy and poverty for most people. For the first time in our history, social mobility means the opportunity to become poor and the inability to provide a better life for our children.

How did this happen? Who has done this to us?

We don’t have to look far to find the culprits, no further than the mirror.

For years we have allowed ourselves to ignore our civic responsibilities, to speak of rights but not duties, to complain about government but ignore elections. What kind of government can we expect when we take more time to read the gossip columns or sports page than to inform ourselves of the public business? Beguiled by our own wealth and success, confident that nothing that happened in Washington or elsewhere could defeat us, most of us lived blindly in a false sense of security. Meanwhile a significant but silent minority slipped through the cracks of prosperity, and forces were at work undermining the very basis of our prosperity. Some of these are as impersonal as the tides; but others had names and faces, and put personal or partisan interest above their duty to the state.

Yet America has a tremendous capacity to reinvent itself. There is an appetite for change, and a widespread acknowledgement of the malaise that afflicts us, such as I have not seen in decades. But there is too little knowledge of the nature of the disease and how widespread it is. If we hope to affect a cure, the very first step is an accurate diagnosis. Only then can we demand the reforms that can return strength and vigor to our nation. Only then can we demand accountability of our leaders and not be distracted or fooled by the many distortions, half truths, and falsehoods used by those who wish to defend and profit by the status quo.

Each generation is called upon to sacrifice. Our grandfathers sacrificed in a Great Crusade against fascism. Our fathers fought for civil rights and racial equality. Our generation must sacrifice to revitalize our nation, restore her dignity, renew the American dream and make it again the land of opportunity for all, not merely those born to wealth and power. It is for us to consecrate ourselves to this great task so that we pass on our inheritance of liberty, democracy and prosperity unsullied to our children.

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“Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.“

John Adams

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