Years from now historians will cite President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address as the launch point of a new era of progressive action and values in America. From climate change to gun control to education to gay rights, women’s rights and voting rights, to the “inherent value” of social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the President laid out a vision of what’s been called Progressive Patriotism. It is a vision that I hope many in this region embrace as I do with great enthusiasm.
For nearly 40 years we’ve been battered by a regressive Conservative agenda that defines freedom as less taxes and more guns. The proponents of that agenda, both nationally and locally, have been loud and aggressive and those who hold progressive values have tended to shrink from the fight. But Elizabeth Warren’s landslide victory last November proved very clearly that even here in Lowell, progressive positions win majority support when they are forcefully and unashamedly advocated.
Despite the size of the Warren victory, there was still a sense that it was an aberration, a win attributable to circumstances other than a ratification of the progressive positions Warren unhesitatingly espoused. Yesterday’s Inaugural Address by the President changed that, I think. Speaking like a man who knows that both history and demographics are on his side, the President laid out a vision of an America made great not by the individual but by groups of individuals working together for the common good. Consider this passage:
Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.
Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers.
Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.
And then there was this passage that served not only as a rebuke to the Romney/Ryan/Republican message, but a clear explanation of national values that many of us embrace:
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.
We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
If you feel similarly that this is the proper path for America moving into the future, keep a copy of this speech handy and read it often so that the big picture remains in sight. But also remember that all politics is local. This speech will mean nothing if its principles are not pursued in every community in the country. With the coming Special Election to fill the United States Senate seat soon to be vacated by John Kerry, we in Massachusetts have an immediate and tangible opportunity to be advocates for this new brand of Progressive Patriotism.
However, don’t be mistaken that this philosophical struggle is only waged in national elections; it is very much a local issue. Just read the city’s draft master plan, “Sustainable Lowell 2025.” It is a document that addresses climate change, sustainability, changing demographics and many of the other issues raised in the President’s speech head-on. Lowell is poised to become a national leader on many of these issues, but only if people who care about them get fully involved locally as well as nationally.