The ideological struggle to define who we are as Americans and what we stand for as a nation is as old as the republic itself and has intensified in recent years, especially with the election of the first African-American president.
That is good because our democracy must be broad enough to accommodate the public discourse, however acrimonious, that is a hallmark of our freedom.
But the struggle has often cast a long and heavy shadow over the most important reason for the discourse – that it must ultimately result in the betterment of the socio-economic condition of all Americans.
With characteristic eloquence and remarkable political courage born of the reality of a second-term presidency, Barack Obama reminded us of that call to higher purpose in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress.
Clearly comfortable with his evolved philosophy that we are better if we are a caring nation, the president set out an agenda dealing not only with topics such as the deficit and jobs, but also summoning us as a people to get beyond the daily political bickering and accept a duty to embrace the cause of the least among us.
“We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status,” Mr. Obama said. “It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.”
His detractors have already labeled his call and his plan of action a “liberal agenda” that promotes big government.
But history has shown that our greatness as a nation shines brightest when we judge our achievements not in terms of dollars but in the number of fellow Americans and other human beings with whom we share this planet that we have helped achieve a life of dignity and worth.