Archive for the ‘Social Change’ Category

Is the Health Care Reform Act a Civil Rights Act?

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on March 23rd, 2010

59971869Should we consider the health care reform act, which President Obama signed into law today to be a civil rights act? There is good reason to do so. Though the Act is far from perfect, it does represent a commitment by Congress to expand access to a fundamental human right. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and his family, including . . . medical care.” Martin Luther King called access to medical care a civil right. Though our Constitution does not include a right to health care (or any other substantive economic rights), it does give Congress the authority to create such rights. And, in a speech after the passage of the Act, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invoked the Declaration of Independence’s statement that all people are guaranteed a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Before the vote, Pelosi and other congressional leaders marched through protesters hurling racial epithets, an act that self-consciously harkened back to civil rights demonstrations of the past. The Act falls within the tradition of Congress enforcing the rights of social citizenship – economic rights that are essential preconditions to one’s ability to exercise other civil and political rights.

Strangely, opponents of the Act also think the Health Care Reform Act is a civil rights act, and argue that this is a reason to oppose it. In February, Rush Limbaugh called the Act a “civil rights act,” a “reparations” bill which people should oppose. Last week, Newt Gingrich compared the Act to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, arguing that Obama’s support of the Health Care Reform Act would wreck the Demcratic party like Lyndon Johnson’s support of the 1964 Act did.

How ironic! I have always thought of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as one of the great moments in American history. I also thought that as a society we had achieved a consensus that civil rights were a good thing. What could Gingrich possibly mean by his critique? Johnson was re-elected by a landslide in the fall of 1964, and he relied on that mandate to push through the Medicare Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act the next year. When Gingrich says the 1964 Act wrecked the Democratic party, could he be referring to the fact that after passage of the Civil Rights Act, many of the pro-segregationist southern Democrats became Republican, eventually turning the South from a solid Democratic block to the solid Republican block we have today?

If so, why would Gingrich want to remind us of the southern Republican party’s roots in segregationism and racism? It’s hard not to see a connection between Limbaugh and Gingrich’s remarks and the racial slurs hurled by protestors against the African American and Latino members of Congress on Sunday. Like Congress’ tradition of expanding human rights in acts like the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Social Security Act and the Medicare Act, there is an equally strong tradition of using race baiting as a tactic in American politics. One of the vestiges of segregation in our society is the racial disparity that still exists in our health care system. If this act helps to remedy this disparity, then it truly is a civil rights act.

The End of “an End of an Era”

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on September 3rd, 2009

As I watched Ted Kennedy’s funeral and listened to the coverage of his life and death last week, I heard the phrase “the end of an era” so many times, it convinced me that people should stop using the term “the end of an era.” What does an “era” mean? According to the Oxford English dictionary, an “era” is defined as “a system of chronology reckoning from a noteworthy event.” Perhaps the commentators mean their observation to refer to the era beginning with the birth of Joseph Kennedy Sr.’s children. True, a genertion of Kennedy brothers had passed away now, ending the era of that generation of the Kennedy brothers. True, many of us (including myself, born the year that Ted Kennedy entered the Senate) cannot remember a time when Ted Kennedy was not in the Senate. True, thousands of liberals in America can no longer count on Senator Ted Kennedy to always speak for us in the Senate, and never apologize for being liberal. But what is the point of calling this an “era?’ What more do we learn from this phraseology?

Perhaps those who called Ted Kennedy’s death “the end of an era” intend announce the end of liberalism in America that was most prevalent in the 1960s but lingered until Ted Kennedy’s death. If thatmpphpH7AOUT[1]t is the case, then I must, most emphatically, object, not only to the phrasing but to the sentiment behind the phrase. There remains a strong progressive tradition in the Democratic party, shared by many members of he general public who dop not affiliate themselves with that party. The progressive tradition was most recently re-affirmed by the election of President Obama (with Ted Kennedy’s crucial support) and his numerous Demcratic colleagues in Congress. It is reaffirmed in the polls that show that despite months of the healthcare industry spending over a million dollars a day to fight health care reform, the American public still strongly supports it, and still demands a change to our health care system. So, let’s put an end to this talk about “the end of an era” and concentrate on what we need now. There’s never an end of the era of need for the poor and middle class folks in this country who demand health care reform.

Thoughts on the Sotomayor Hearings

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on July 16th, 2009

When I wasotomayor.jpgs a first year student at Yale Law School, some of the upper level students organized a conference on “Women of Color and the Law.”  The speakers at this conference spoke about the failure of our law to adequately address the needs of women of color, and the role of women of color as lawyers.  The conference had a strong impact on me and my friends.  While in law school, we focused in our classes and our extracurricular activities on the law’s relationship to women of color and other people who have been historically disempowered in out society.  After law school, as a legal services lawyer in the South side of Chicago, I personally witnessed the failure of the law to address the needs of my clients, who were primarily women of color.  Now, there is a woman of color, Sonya Sotomayor, who is about to become a member of the top Court in our country.  I never would have imagined this moment when I was in law school, or when I was a practicing lawyer.

As far as I know, Sotomayor was not present at the Women of Color Conference.  It occurred years after she graduated from Yale.  However, during her hearings she has found herself discussing some of the issues addressed by the speakers at that meeting – the impact of a experience on how a person understands the law, and the importance of a judge mitigating his or her personal views when he or she is interpreting the law.  In a world dedicated to the myth that justice is blind (that is, that judges are not influenced by their backgrounds and experiences), her nuanced explanations are a tough sell.  Fortunately, she is maintaining her composure, and her strong record and the large Democratic majority in the Senate virtually insure that she will be confirmed.  I look forward to that day.

Out with a Whimper

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on July 2nd, 2009

The Supreme Court’s season is over, and it ended not with a bang, but a whimper.  The Court did not strike down the Voting Rights Act after all (thank goodness).  The Court ruled in favor of the white firefighters in Ricci, as expected, but avoided the Equal Protection issue.  And, despite disparaging remarks and jokes during the oral argument over the case, eight members of the Court agreed that strip search of a 13 year girl alleged to have brought an Ibuprofen pill to school violated the 4th Amendment.  As many commentators have noted, the Court is moving to the right, but it could have moved a lot farther.

Why the whimper instead of a bang?  Could it be that members of the Court are influenced by politics?  The most interesting case to me is the strip search case.  Justice Ginsburg, the only woman on the Supreme Court, was open about her concern that her male colleagues were insufficiently attentive to the sensitivities of a 13 year old girl.  Did the fact that  another woman, Sonya Sotomayor, sits in the wings to be confirmed to the Court, have an impact of those colleagues as they mulled over that case?  Did the fact that Sotomayor is a person of color influence the members of the Court considering overruling the landmark Voting Rights Act even as conservative politicians were accusing Sotomayor of being a racist?  We will never know.

“Progressive Originalism”

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on March 19th, 2009

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article this week about the surge of interest in originalism among constitutional scholars and advocates.  These scholars and advocates focus not on the original constitutiojohn-bingham.jpgn, but on the Reconstruction Era, also known as the Second Founding because the Reconstruction Amendments changed our constitution so fundamentally.  I am happy to see the Framers of the Reconstruction constitution getting attention in the mainstream media, especially John Bingham, the original author of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment and one of the leading constitutional theorists in the Reconstruction Congress.  The article also provides an opportunity to consider the question of originalism as a method of constitutional interpretation, and whether “preogressive originalism” is an oxymoron.  “Originalism” as a method of constitutional interpretation has long been associated with conservative ideology.  Indeed, originalism is a fundamentally conservative method of constitutional interpretation in the classic sense of conservatism.  There are varying schools of originalism, but basically originalists ask judges who are interpreting the constitution to look back at the past and to be bound (to varying extents depending on the scholar or judge) by the meaning of the constitution at the time that it was drafted.

Given the fundamentally conservative nature of originalism, how could any originalist consider him or herself to be “progressive?”  For scholars such as myself who research and write about the Reconstruction Era, the answer is simple.  The members of the Reconstruction Congress were progressive, very progressive, even radical.  They intended the Reconstruction Amendments to alter our system of federalism by transfering the primary responsibility over individual rights from the states to the federal government.  They also had a very broad vision of what these individual rights would be, ranging from the rights to life, liberty and property to all of the fundamental rights.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they were the first to give Congress the power to define and protect our individual rights by including congressional enforcement clauses in the Reconstruction Amendments.

Focusing on Reconstruction enables scholars to be originalists and believe that the constitution is a progressive document at the same time.  But this attitude does not answer the fundamental dilemma of constitutional interpretation – whether those interpreting the constitution must always look back to what constitutional provisions meant at the time that they were written, or whether they can consider what those provisions mean in contemporary times.  Conservative originalists like originalism because it cabins the discretion of unaccountable judges when they are interpreting the constitution.  They argue that considering the contemporary meaning of constitutional provisions is an invitation to judges to allow their political and personal views to color their interpretation of the Constitution.

The dilemma of “progressive originalism” is less problematic when we understand that the members of the Reconstruction Congress did not believe that judges were the sole, or even the primary interpreters of the constitution.  Like conservative originalists, members of the Reconstruction Congress were very skeptical of the judicial branch, which they recognized as the author of Dred Scott and an apologist for the Slave Power.  They also believed that members of Congress had a large amount of autonomy to interpret the constitution themselves, and they intended the congressional enforcement clauses to reflect this vision of constitutional interpretation.  When members of Congress interpret the constitution, they need not look back to the meaning of those provisions at the time that they were adopted.  Instead, they may take their political views and contemporary circumstances into account.  That is their job, and that is the task assigned to them by the Reconstruction Congress.  The Framers of the Reconstruction Amendments assumed that those interpreting the broad provisions establishing individual rights in those amendments would take contemporary circumstances into account.  They just didn’t expect the Court to monopolize that interpretation the way that it has in cases such as City of Boerne v. Flores.  Thus, an originalist understanding of the Reconstruction Amendments is progressive, both politically and institutionally.

Unfortunately, the current Supreme Court, comprised primarily of “originalists,” has failed to take an originalist approach to the Fourteenth Amendment.  In Boerne, the Court restricted the Congress’ power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment in a manner that would have made Reconstruction Framers such as Bingham, James Ashley and Lyman Trumbull roll over in their graves.  Let’s hope the new originalist approach to Reconstruction makes its way to the US Supreme Court, so that the progressive vision of the Reconstruction Framers can be restored – not just in the courts, but also in Congress.

No Town Like Motown

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on March 12th, 2009

In many ways, the city of Detroit, Michigan, embodies the American dream – and its failings.  In the Twentieth Century, Detroit was a center of industry – and not just any industry.   The American romance with the automobile is centrdetroit-skyline.jpgal to the American dream, and for much of the Twentieth Century, most of our cars were made in or around Detroit.  Automobile enthusiasts looked forward to the Detroit auto show every year, and one need only scan the titles of popular songs to understand how much we loved cars made in Detroit – Mustangs, Cadillacs, Mercuries, the list goes on and on.  Of course, the cars made in Detroit were not just important in popular culture – they also provided thousands of people with well-paying jobs.  As a result, immigrants flocked to Detroit from other countries and  African Americans migrated from the south of this country, fleeing Jim Crow and seeking a new prosperous life.  Detroit became the center of the union movement, and automobile workers prospered.  Until the mid-1960s, Detroit really was a city in which the American dream came to life for thousands of people.

The decline of Detroit is an all-too-familiar story.  The race riots in the 1960s, the white migration to the suburbs, the arrival of Japanese cars, and the decline of the American automobile industry.  GM was once the number one employer in this country, but GM, and its well-paying union jobs, has now been replaced in that role by Walmart and its low-paying no-benefits positions.  To look at how the American dream has failed so many workers in this country, one need only look at Detroit.  In these dark days of economic recession, no place is darker than Detroit.  GM and Chrysler are on the brink of economic disaster, and the third of the Big Three, Ford, is struggling as well.  The rate of unemployment in Detroit is over 10%, and it is one of the cities worst hit by the housing crisis.  I have heard reports of houses selling for as little as $100 in Detroit.

Ironically, the low cost of housing in Detroit is also cause for a strange sort of optimism.  Artists have started buying houses in Detroit, moving from more prosperous cities like Chicago to find a place they can afford to live.  The sheer economic devastation in that city thus leaves open the possibility of a new urban colony with renovated housing, green energy, community gardens, and artistic renewal.  Sound crazy?  Maybe, but there is that spirit about Detroit, that spirit of hope and optimism that reflects the remnants of the American dream.  The 1960s were a decade of turmoil and racial strife in Detroit, arguably the beginning of the downward spiral that is culminating today.  But they were also the decade of Motown music.  Could artists alone save Detroit?  Of course not, but we also can’t expect the automobile industry alone to do the job.  Cities like Detroit need imagination and vision, small businesses and “knowledge jobs.”  For that reason, this new migration of artists to Detroit may be what’s needed to start the city moving in a new direction.

Changing our Economic Priorities

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on March 5th, 2009

President Obama’s speech last week was hailed by some as a declaration that the era of Ronald Reagan is over.  I hope that is true, Reaganat least with regard to our country’s economic priorities.  Prior to Reagan’s presidency, our country had gone through a long period of relative prosperity that began after the end of World War II.  Sure, there were some downturns during that period, including a deadly combination of inflation and unemployment under President Carter that contributed to his loss to Reagan.  However, what was most notable about that long period was the steady increase in real wages of middle class people.  There was at least an implicit understanding that the goal of our economy was to provide decent, well paying jobs for people so that they could achieve the “American dream” of a comfortable middle class lifestyle.  An indication of this consensus is the fact that even Republican president Richard Nixon supported the right to a minimum income.

After Reagan became president, our national economic priorities shifted to overall economic growth regardless of who benefited.  Under the “trickle down” economic policies of Reagan and his allies, as long as the rich got richer, we would all eventually benefit.  Our country began to focus more on the stock market as an indicator of wealth – as long as the market was rising and GDP was growing, then the country was doing OK.  The problem with that theory was that the wealth did not trickle down.  Rich people got richer – a lot richer, but for the rest of us real wages began to decline, and are still far behind those of the mid 1970s when inflation is taken into account.

The decline of real wages since Reagan became president was no accident.  It is the result of government policies that favored rich people and large corporations, including tax cuts for the rich and de-regulation of business, accompanied by policies that hurt low and middle class people, including the end of welfare as we know it and strident anti-unionism symbolized by Reagan’s firing of the striking air traffic controllers.  The weakening of unions has placed a downward pressure on the wages of all of us because it reduces the bargaining power of workers as a whole.

My mention of “the end of welfare” deserves more explanation, and illustrates the fact that not only Republicans, but also Democrats, bought into these harmful economic policies.  Under Bill Clinton, a Democratic Congress voted to end the entitlement to welfare of the New Deal era Aid to Families with Dependent Children (“AFDC”) program and replace it with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF”), a program that has a five year lifetime limit and requires recipients (with a few exceptions) to work in order to receive their benefits.   While AFDC was not ended under Reagan, he began the process with his campaign rhetoric that included lies about Cadillac driving welfare mothers.  The end of AFDC places downward pressure on wages, since most people now have no alternative but to accept low wage part time service employment, providing fiercely anti-union companies like Walmart with a ready supply of cheap and exploitable labor.

For the sake of all of us, I really hope that Obama’s speech signals an end to Reaganomics, and a real change to our national economic priorities.  We simply can’t afford the old ones anymore.

The Ghost of FDR

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on February 19th, 2009

This week, President Obama signed a stimulus bill that is designed to end our country’s downward economic slide.  Given the dire circumstances we are in, you might expect that the Repub905b3673-b527-f2b2-d2c261171c4d48c01.jpglicans in Congress would be open to the plan suggested by a new president whose victory last fall was based in large part on his economic vision.  Yet the Republicans remain steadfastly opposed to the plan.  To hear the congressional Republicans talk, you’d think the election was still going on.  This is especially true of the Republican standard bearer, John McCain, who continues to advocate the same free market tax cutting policies of the former Republican president, despite the fact that the American people overwhelmingly rejected those ideas last November.  Moreover, current polls show that the American people favor the stimulus bill, and congressional Republicans lag far behind the Democrats in their approval ratings.  Why are the Republicans being so obstructionist? Rush Limbaugh over-simplified the reason when he said he hopes that Obama will fail (even though if Obama fails, thousands more Americans will suffer).  The real reason is that the Republicans really hope that Obama will fail, because they are haunted by the ghost of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Congressional Republicans know enough about history to understand what happened the last time a charismatic, articulate president, who was able to instill hope and confidence in the people, took over from a Republican president whose free market ideology had contributed to economic devastation in our country.  Roosevelt’s New Deal policies rejected that free market ideology, expanded the government safety net, and contributed to the country’s economic recovery.  More importantly, the American people gave FDR credit for saving the country from the Depression.  They re-elected him by a landslide in 1936, and re-elected him again two more times.  The success of FDR and the perceived success of his New Deal led millions of Americans to become lifelong Democrats, and contributed to the Democratic dominance of Congress for over 40 years.  Given President Obama’s charisma, political savvy and popularity with people below the age of 30, if he is perceived to succeed in reviving our economy, we could be facing another generation of Democratic rule.

In the past thirty years, the Republicans have sought to dismantle the successes of the New Deal, and the Democrimages24.jpgats have mostly gone along with them.  Unfortunately, they were largely successful at cutting back on government regulation of the financial industry and effectively ending welfare (with the help of President Bill Clinton).  Fortunately, President George W. Bush did not succeed at gutting our social security system, the steadfast iconic New Deal success.  However, the Democrats’ cooperation with the de-regulation of big business, the restrictions on organized labor and welfare “reform” made it possible for Bush to argue in 2004 that the Democratic Party was no longer the party of Roosevelt.

I am hopeful that the Democrats are returning to their legacy as the party of FDR under the leadership of President Obama.  Above all, that legacy was based on the idea that government can work, and that ir can help working people.  The Republicans are haunted by the ghost of FDR.  Let’s hope that the Democrats are, too.

Barack Obama and Post-Equal Protection Equality

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on February 5th, 2009

Much has been said about the relationship between Barack Obama and former civil rights leaders.  On the one hand, the inauguration was full of parallels between Obama and Martin Luther King.  Obama was said to have realized tmpphpw3ebwl1.jpgthe dream that King spoke about in the 1963 March on Washington.  Without the efforts of Dr. King and the movement that he led, Barack Obama would probably not have had the opportunity to become President.  However, as Prof. Hank Chambers has pointed in an earlier post, there is a danger that the election of a Black man as President will cause many to believe that Blacks as a whole have achieved equality in our society.  There are many indicators that that is not the case.  The chief indicator is that Blacks are still significantly poorer than whites.  Hence, it is understandable that some in the older generation of civil rights leaders are uncomfortable with Obama’s emphasis on unity, downplaying the racial differences that still plague our society.

I have been thinking a lot about this issue as I consider the possibility of a post-Equal Protection vision of equality in constitutional law.  By its very nature, the Equal Protection Clause requires the comparison of groups of people, including racial groups, to determine whether they are being treated equally.  This vision of racial equality is the basis of most of our civil rights law, including both Court rulings and most civil rights statutes enacted by Congress during the Twentieth Century.  Equal Protection based civil rights have been the basis of significant accomplishments of minorities and women in our society.  However, our equal protection based equality law is flawed because it assumes that people start at the same place.  Women and members of racial and ethnic minority groups are entitled to nothing more than equal treatment, regardless of the fact that centuries of discrimination mean that we simply don’t start all at the same place.

A post-Equal Protection vision of equality focuses not on comparing groups of people, not on conflicts between racial groups, but on the substantive rights to which we are all entitled.  In a very real sense, this was the vision of equality of the Reconstruction Congress.  Their landmark 1866 Civil Rights Act, which preceded the Fourteenth Amendment, required that all people be entitled to the same rights as white citizens, and listed some of those rights, including the right to engage in the economy that slaves had lacked.  These members of Congress also empowered themselves to create more substantive rights which would enable freed slaves to live as fully integrated members of our society.  Future members of Congress could determine which substantive rights would be necessary to fulfill this vision.

Several generations later, during another time of crisis, the New Deal Congress relied on a substantive vision of equality as they enacted legislation creating economic rights such as the right to organize into a union, the right to unemployment benefits, and the right to economic security if one retired or became disabled.  Unfortunately, African Americans were largely excluded from this promise of economic security because the jobs that most of them performed at the time, domestic and agricultural labor, were not covered by these statutes.   Since then, many African Americans have benefited from the right to organize, and from the safety net that the New Deal Congress enacted.  However, the lack of New Deal economic rights also contributed significantly to the lack of economic progress of African Americans as, thanks to the Civil Rights movement, they emerged from the Jim Crow South’s system of racial apartheid.

We’ve come a long way towards realizing equality in our society, but wtmpphpp6uijs1.jpge still have a long way to go.  What we need now is a post-Equal Protection vision of equality, a vision based on substantive economic rights for all.  Which brings me back to President Obama.  There are early indications that Obama believes that equality, including racial equality, will come from economic empowerment.  Last week, the Obama administration announced a project to revive the middle class.  One of the President’s first economic measures was to revive the labor movement by rescinding restrictions on unions.  Obama has said that he believes that unions are part of the solution to our economic crisis.  His administration is also working to create new jobs that should be available to all.  Government employment has been a crucial path to economic security for African Americans since the New Deal Era.  These are promising indications that the Obama will pursue a post-Equal Protection model of equality.  Obama’s presidency itself is a symbol of the progress that we have achieved thanks to the Equal Protection based civil rights movement.  If he continues to champion substantive economic rights, I am hopeful that more people of all races may be enjoy a future of full participation in our society.

TO BEGIN THE WORLD A NEW

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on January 20th, 2009

The American Revolution and its constitutional expression—at least in the Constitution’s Preamble, the Bill of Right, and the Civil War Amendments–represent a commitment to the critical political values story-1.jpgof liberty and equality. Ours was the first nation to be committed to an idea, to popular sovereignty.  This involves requiring the allegiance to the people not to Kings, theocrats, and such.  Instead, the people governed would also be the governors. This idea would sweep away other forms of political commitments. It is an idea that anyone could adopt, anyone committed to self-government. In theory, one didn’t have to be a member of a particular nationality or religion.  It was a new beginning that one chose to adopt, not one that was imposed by other people or traditions. The beauty of this polity was that each generation, if it chose, could begin the world anew. This was the theory, but it often fell short in practice. The power of domination to which other nations adhered also had expression in American political and social practice.  The most onerous form of domination was slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and presently, subtle forms of discrimination. Could America’s aspirations every truly be realized?

That question has now the beginning of an answer and that answer is yes we can.  Today, after forty-three white presidents, Americans will swear in their first African American president. We will begin our world anew. This, of course, does not mean racism will be extinguished in America today or even in this decade.  But now we see the beginning of the end of virulent racism.  Committed racists are now a severely endangered species and like the dinosaurs are headed for extinction.  Other forms of racism will take longer to extirpate.  But the dye has been cast. With the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama we have turned a new chapter in the American narrative. No longer will an entire group of Americans be cast out of America’s highest office because there skin color is not “correct.”  No longer will other minorities be similarly shut out.

What is genuinely inspiring, for me, about America’s greatness lies, not in its attainment of perfection whatever that would be like, but rather its capacity for change, its commitment to remediating wrongs, and perhaps most importantly and most relevant today, its penchant for expanding the idea of who counts as a full and equal citizen. The new president represents the promise of transformative change, of righting its wrongs and expressing its revolutionary and constitutional aspirations in a new birth of freedom.

But President Obama represents more than simply the first African American to win the presidency. He brings to the presidency a new political philosophy. The commitment to liberty and equality, as important as it is, fails to complete the idea of self government. Added to the fundamental values of liberty and equality, must be an aspiration to community.  Consider his own words:

Communities had never been a given in this country, at least not for blacks. Communities had to be created, fought for, tended like gardens. They expanded or contracted with the dreams of men—and [in the civil rights movement] I saw the African-American community becoming more than just the place where you’d been born or the house where you’d been raised. Through organizing, through shared sacrifice, membership had been earned.  And because membership was earned—because this community I imagined was still in the making, built on the promise that the larger American community, black, white, and brown, could somehow redefine itself—I believe that it might, over time, admit the uniqueness of my own life.

President Obama’s commitment to community is illustrative of what this extraordinarily intellectual, and morally grounded, man will contribute to the idea of America.  We must attend to our commonalities; we must strive to seetmpphpvr8i5n.jpg ourselves in others. The poison of factionalism, special interests, and demonizing our opponents must give way to respecting our opponents in the hope of achieving principled compromise with them. But a sensitivity to community is not a given; it is not easy.  Each American, in his or her own way, must contribute, must sacrifice, must exude patience to bring forth a transformation in American political culture. No, this will not be easy, but then again, it is never easy to begin the world anew. It is, however, our legacy, a legacy that empowers and invigorates like no other legacy can. The challenges facing America are enormous and grave, and we must give the new president a chance. Welcome to the age of Obama, where we can begin the world anew by revivifying our precious values of liberty and equality, and add to these values the value of community. Within the vast diversity in the American nation, the new president challenges us to recognize our interconnectedness. We are one people, not because our religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, or ethnicity makes us one people, but rather because our commitment to American ideals, to the better angels of our nature; that’s what makes us one.  Congratulations, Mr. President! Congratulations America!