We’re In This Together

PUBLISHED: September 7, 2012

The Democrats' convention in Charlotte tackled two key questions for undecided voters. Are we better off than we were four years ago? What can we expect in President Obama's second term?

Central to both questions is the word "we."

While individuals who have lost jobs or suffered serious personal setbacks are certainly worse off, a reasonable assessment of a president's record must be based on how we, as a nation, are doing collectively. This is more than semantics; it's at the heart of what separates today's Republicans and Democrats.

Mitt Romney favors a "you" approach in which government and its annoying safety net move out of your way. Barack Obama believes in what Bill Clinton referred to Wednesday night as a "we're-all-in-this-together society."

So, as a nation, are we better off? Absolutely. On virtually every metric – from jobs to national security; from health to education – things have improved in President Obama’s first term.

Where are we headed? “I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy,” the president explained on Thursday. But the benchmarks are clear: a steady, if sometimes slow, economic recovery; a measured departure from Afghanistan; a gradual phasing-in of the new healthcare policies; reasonable treatment of 11 million undocumented immigrants; continued careful corrections to the education system, and, yes, higher taxes for all Americans on anything they earn above $250,000 a year, no matter who they are.

It takes us, the president stated correctly, to “a better place.”

Even more important, perhaps, is what a second term for President Obama will not allow: risky changes to Medicare; more tax breaks for the super rich; scaling back of reasonable regulations to protect our air and water; new and regressive restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, and warmongering in the world’s hot spots.

In Tuesday night’s closing benediction, heard by few outside the hall, Jenna Lee Nardella of Nashville prayed that America could “knit as one country, even as we wrestle over the complexity of how we ought to live and govern.”

Two nights later, Mr. Obama turned to a single word that summed it up: “citizenship.”

Citizenship, he said, is “at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.”

We’ve had two weeks of over-produced and over-analyzed conventions, designed primarily to woo so-called “undecideds,” who seem intent on evaluating shades of personality differences between two men. These voters struggle mightily to make up their minds, failing to consider that it’s not really about the candidates; it’s about the profoundly different directions in which they would lead the nation.

That’s why Mr. Obama put a new spin on the word “you.” It wasn’t the “you” who cares little for his neighbor and deludes himself into thinking that in these complex times no one needs the services and protections provided by government. It wasn’t the “you” who are asked repeatedly by the president’s critics if they are better off than they were four years ago.

You, the nation, said the president, are the change. You, the people, are the hope.

Over the next two months, others will continue to mock “hope and change.” Americans should take that personally, because it is “we” who are being mocked.

(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.

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