In Search of Our Future - Who will speak for the common good?
We are a people in a quandary about the present. We are a people in search of our future. We are a people in search of a national community…. Many fear the future. Many are distrustful of their leaders and believe that their voices are never heard. Many seek only to satisfy their private work wants; to satisfy private interests.
But this is the great danger America faces. That we will cease to be one nation and become instead a collection of interest groups: city against suburb, region against region, individual against individual. Each seeking to satisfy private wants. If that happens, who then will speak for America? Who then will speak for the common good? This is the question that must be answered in 1976. Are we to be one people bound together by common spirit sharing in a common endeavor or will we become a divided nation?
For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future. We must not become the new puritans and reject our society. We must address and master the future together. It can be done if we restore the belief that we share a sense of national community, that we share a common national endeavor. It can be done. There is no executive order; there is no law that can require the American people to form a national community. This we must do as individuals and if we do it as individuals, there is no president of the United States who can veto that decision.
As a first step, we must restore our belief in ourselves. We are a generous people so why can’t we be generous with each other? We need to take to heart the words spoken by Thomas Jefferson: “Let us restore to social intercourse the harmony and that affection without which liberty and even life are but dreary things.”
A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good. A government is invigorated when each of us is willing to participate in shaping the future of this nation. In this election year, we must define the common good and begin again to shape a common good and begin again to shape a common future. Let each person do his or her part. If one citizen is unwilling to participate, all of us are going to suffer. For the American idea, though it is shared by all of us, is realized in each one of us.
And now, what are those of us who are elected public officials supposed to do? We call ourselves public servants but I’ll tell you this: We as public servants must set an example for the rest of the nation. It is hypocritical for the public official to admonish and exhort the people to uphold the common good. More is required of public officials than slogans and handshakes and press releases. More is required. We must hold ourselves strictly accountable. We must provide the people with a vision of the future.
If we promise as public officials, we must deliver. If we as public officials propose, we must produce. If we say to the American people it is time for you to be sacrificial, sacrifice. If the public official says that, we (public officials) must be the first to give. We must be. And again, if we make mistakes, we must be willing to admit them. We have to do that. What we have to do is strike a balance between the idea, the belief, that government ought to do nothing. Strike a balance.
Let there be no illusions about the difficulty of forming this kind of a national community. It’s tough, difficult, not easy. But a spirit of harmony will survive in America only if each of us remembers that we share a common destiny. I have confidence that we can form this kind of national community. I have confidence that the Democratic Party can lead the way. I have confidence. We cannot improve on the system of government handed down to us by the founders of the Republic, there is no way to improve upon that. But what we can do is to find new ways to implement that system and realize our destiny.
Now I began this speech by commenting to you on the uniqueness of a Barbara Jordan making the keynote address. Well, I am going to close my speech by quoting a Republican president and I ask you that as you listen to these words of Abraham Lincoln, relate them to the concept of national community in which every last one of us participates: “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.”
Excerpt of the speech presented by the late congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-Texas) at the Democratic National Convention on July 12, 1976. Jordan was the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate since Reconstruction.
By Barbara Jordan