In Your Hands, There Is Hope
By the time I was born, John F. Kennedy had long since passed. But despite his abrupt fate in Dallas, the influence of President Kennedy's political philosophy on Democratic politics continues to tug both at the heart and the intellect, calling from the pages of history for all of us to step forward and do what is necessary to work toward a better America and a better world for us all.
We not only deserve much better than we have at the moment, the simple fact of the matter is that we all have the power to demand better. And it starts with each of us getting up, getting involved, and getting out our vote.
Every vote for change that we get into the ballot box puts us one step closer to some real accountability, some more honesty, some checks and balances. Politics and government get thrown out there as dirty words all the time but imagine, just for a moment, where we could be as citizens and as a nation, as a whole, if we all started thinking about what we could do to help each other out…and if the people we elected to represent us held themsleves to a much higher standard than what we are seeing now.
Imagine a Congress where you weren't wondering which member of the controlling Republican party was going to be indicted next. Imagine a President who put the interests of the least of these ahead of the interests of the folks who gave the most to him. Imagine, for a moment, a government that was evaluating threats and problems with an eye toward the long-term benefits, instead of just the short-term "what's in it for me" considerations.
Imagine real leadership, and then realize that, as a citizen and a voter, you have the right to demand it. From the people elected to represent you — and from yourself. You can make an enormous difference by simply standing up and asking to be heard.
I can still remember the very first time I read the inaugural speech of JFK as a kid. My parents had always been Democrats, and growing up in a predominantly blue collar family in West Virginia, in a mostly blue collar town that was almost entirely Democratic, I guess I had just always thought of myself as a Democrat.
But, at some point because I've always been a bit of a contrarian, I wanted to know exactly what that meant and whether it truly applied to me or not. And so I went to the source of a lot of the Democratic party wisdom that folks in my neighborhood seemed to quote to me when I asked pesky questions: the words of JFK, who is to this day revered in a lot of homes in West Virginia because he treated folks like equals when he campaigned in the hills and hollers here.
And I can recall the jolt that I got from reading this:
In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.
Now the trumpet summons us again–not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need–not as a call to battle, though embattled we are– but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"–a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.
Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility–I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
The fate of our nation, and of its place in our world, rests in our hands. Not someone else's — OUR hands. This is not a passive duty, but an active one — as citizens of this great republic, we have a duty, although it is an honorable one, to vote. And with that vote comes a responsibility, not just to our own generation, but to generations to come.
So I ask you, honestly, has the Republican party earned the nation's trust, or have they squandered it with their profligate spending and ever-increasing deficits that we will pass on to generations to come? Have they defended our nation by making smart choices and strengthening necessary alliances all the while reducing threats from our enemies? Or have they failed not only to make the right choices, but to also admit and learn from mistakes, so that the nation is made less safe by an increasing cycle of violence and hatred and chaos directed at us from the very enemies we sought to quell? Have we captured Osama Bin Laden yet?
Do you feel safer today than you did six years ago? Do you feel that your family is on more stable economic ground?
Do you trust George Bush and the Republican Party to change their ways in the next two years, when they have been consistently advocating "stay the course," never admitting a mistake, and never requiring even the slightest level of accountability from each other? Is America better served by a government that caters to its own internal cronyism and corruption — or by a divided government, wherein each branch, controlled by a differing party, keeps watch on the other as a check and balance as the Founders of this nation envisioned at our country's Constitutional inception?
The bottom line is: have the Republicans earned your trust over the last five years by improving things for and in America? Are we better off than we were six years ago? I say no.
Our nation is better than it's current leadership. We are, at our core, a nation which holds the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as important. Where equality of opportunity and the rule of law ought to be more than simply phrases that get test marketed for manipulative speechifying talking points for hand-picked audiences. Where asking for some measure of accountability from our elected officials is respected, instead of having elected officials question one's patriotism for standing up for the very documents on which our nation of laws is built.
If you need further inspiration for voting for Democrats, Part I of the Kennedy inaugural is here. And Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech is here. Both of these are a bit long, but worth it if you have not seen them in their entirety. And because, as Nietzsche once wrote in his Epigrams and Interludes, "[i]n music, the passions enjoy themselves.", I feel the need this morning also to link a song by Bruce Springsteen that is still achingly painful today. But the call to rise up must be heeded.
We are better than this. And it is well past time that we believed that again.
In your hands, there is hope. We have five days and counting until the election, and an entire weekend's worth of canvassing and GOTV calls to make. Americans have been calling out for some leadership, for someone to stand up and speak to their fear and their anger and their pain…and their hope…but what we have all failed to fully grasp is that the power for change is in our own hands, our own hearts. That we can make the difference, one action, one step, one hour of work at a time. That the leadership must come from each one of us — individually and, more importantly, standing together.
Won't you rise up today? Won't you volunteer for a local campaign or make phone calls or get involved in some activity that will move us forward and get out our vote? America is depending on you…this is no time to hope that someone else will pick up the slack, this is crunch time, and your efforts could make the difference for us on election day. Had enough? Vote for Democrats, and work to get out our vote…because America deserves better.
In your hands, there is hope.
(If you just need a laugh this morning, I'm also including Stephen Colbert's version of the Dr. King speech: "I Have A Dreamsicle." It's Thursday. Have a giggle.)