If you have 10 minutes in your day, you should use those ten minutes in your day to selectively read speeches from Bill Moyers, Moyers on Democracy. It is worth the time. On my flights to and from North Carolina this weekend, I couldn’t put it down, and I was richly rewarded by being reminded once again of what I believe a democracy should be. I have been so cynical about the state of our democracy lately. But Bill Moyers reminds me, once again, what we should be striving for:
“Here in the first decade of the twenty-first century the story that becomes America’s dominant narritave will shape our collective imagination and our politics for a long time to come. In the searching of our souls demanded by this challenge, those of us in this room and kindred spirits across the nation must confront the most fundamental liberal failure of the current era: the failure to embrace a moral vision of America based on the transcendent faith that human beings are more than the sum of their material appetities, our country is more than an economic machine, and freedom is not license but responsibility – the gift we have received and the legacy we must bequeath.”
I have been thinking alot about that notion lately – that freedom is not license, but responsibility. That principle is an idea that has become lost in our American democracy, where individuals are completely enamored with the idea of themselves, at the expense of the collective. The popular notion is that we don’t have to worry about what effect our exercise of our rights have on someone else. If we have the ability to grow wealthy, then that means it is okay to do so, regardless of the effect it has on anyone else. In the mortgage meltdown that has hit America, everyone was thinking about the quickest way to make a buck, and not thinking about the health and well-being of neighborhoods. In the foreclosure crisis that has followed, creditors and debtors look for the quickest way to escape from bad debt, ignoring the fact that someone else will ultimately have to pay the price – even if it is the pensioner on retirement, who finds that his fund no longer has any value because of some bad debt that a Wall Street brokerage gobbled up.
This notion of the “right” without the corresponding “responsibility” is what bothered me so much about Obama’s healthcare plan, in his lack of a mandate for buying health insurance. His plan, in essence saying, it should be everyone’s right to purchase health insurance, regardless of pre-existing conditions, but ignoring the idea that if health care is to become a universal right, then it is also a universal responsibility for everyone to pay for it as well. Otherwise, in modern American society, no one would feel the need to purchase health care until they themselves became sick, because what is the purpose of blowing money on health insurance to help pay for other sick people? The very notion of collective insurance is that everyone pays into it so that everyone can use it when they need it.
I love Moyers’s view that faith that humanity should be something more than just a material machine should guide our decisions in our democracy. It is something that I forget about when I get caught up in the cynical view that politics seems only to be about money these days. But how do we do that?
I will need to think about this more. Thanks Bill, for reminding me that there are many things to think about.