Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A New Sense of Unity and Shared Responsibility

We're reading Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions in my freshman writing class at Purdue, and as I prepare for a first discussion, I find connection between Vonnegut's recollection of Phoebe Hurty's hope for America and the new Obama ad slated to being airing nationally today.

Here's Vonnegut:

[Phoebe Hurty] believed what so many Americans believed then: that the nation would be happy and just and rational when prosperity came. I never hear that anymore: Prosperity. It used to be a synonym for Paradise. And Phoebe Hurty was able to believe that the impoliteness she recommended would give shape to an American paradise. Now her sort of impoliteness is fashionable. But nobody believes anymore in a new American paradise. I sure miss Phoebe Hurty.

Yes, you have to step past the nostalgia and a temptation to believe there were better days just a few decades ago - that's not it. What can be read in Phoebe Hurty is a willingness to fight for a better day where prosperity is coupled with justice and rationality, where the fruit of our labor secures well being for all Americans.

Phoebe Hurty used impoliteness to open the conversation of her day, to provoke an awakening to rationality. In this election season, such impoliteness has been co-opted and now redeployed with false "honor" to accuse, sensationalize, and distort wherever rational argument would seek audience.

I must believe that, in the end, it will not be so. I choose to believe that ...
"Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and to institute new government. Laying its foundations on such prinicples and organizing its powers in such force as to them should be most likely to evince their freedom and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate, that governments long established should not be changed for light and tanscient causes, but accordingly, all experience has shown that mankind is more disposed to suffer when evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed; but when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing the same object, divines to reduce them to an absolute despostism, it is their right - it is their duty- to throw off such government and to devise new forms for their future security."

What Jefferson knew then, Obama knows now. He believes in a prosperity born of justice and rationality. He believes in an America that is "America" for all of its citizens.

Forgive me for compromising the language of The Declaration of Independence as I wrote it above: I write from seventh-grade memories, and that's a long time ago for me. I've held these words as among the dearest my citizen-birthright affords, even if they have morphed a little over time.

What I know is this: We aren't called to be America as a place where we all think alike; we're called to protect America as a act of freedom each of us lives into and works out as individuals - as the responsibility only an individual can carry to increasingly understand what life is all about. America is America because it protects that dream - that freedom - for as many of its citizens as it possibly can, and it commits its citizens to a sense of unity and a shared responsibility for building a nation where each and every one of us has the same opportunity - more than that, the shared responsibility - to become all that we were made to be by the very one who made us to be so (and you can drop the God part here if it doesn't work for you - your call).

McCain and Palin won't take us there.

Vote Obama.

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