A more perfect union

By Michael E.C. Gery

Michael GeryHumorist Roy Blount Jr. recently suggested that we elect our public officials by lottery, because "then we wouldn't attract the kinds of people who run for office these days." It's another expression of how bitter Americans are about our government.

What happened to make us feel this way?

We have a pretty good track record. We set up a system of self-government so that "we the people of the United States" could "form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." And we've done that for a good 225 years.

We set in stone certain rights for everyone: the freedom to speak, assemble, broadcast, practice religion, petition the government, arm a militia; rights to a fair trial, protection from unwarranted search and seizure, from cruel punishment, from self-incrimination; the right to equal treatment under the law. We welcomed immigrants — our ancestors — to come here, become citizens and enjoy these rights, too.

And along the way we tried making the union more perfect when we knew it needed improvement, in order that, as President Abraham Lincoln said, "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." We prohibited slavery. We placed limits on the size, control and practices of business. We made sure women had the same rights as men. We helped stop tyrants around the world from abusing and killing their own people.

Eighty years ago, when the nation's economy collapsed, we pulled ourselves out of a Great Depression, not by giving money to business interests that failed, but by putting ourselves to work making roads, bridges, dams, armories, national parks, photographs and literature, farm communities. We established the Social Security system to provide working people with pensions and disabled people with a safety net. We protected bank deposits. We sent aid to communities after natural disasters. We loaned money to rural communities to help them bring electricity to their homes and businesses.

Fifty years ago we began taking steps to end racial discrimination, secure voting rights for everyone, end pollution of our air and water, ensure the health and safety of our workplaces. We sent young volunteers to poor communities here in America and around the world to show them we are good-hearted people who help others. We set up federal agencies to support scientific and technological innovation, arts, humanities, weather and atmospheric study, disease control, communication technology, and the safety of air travel, highway travel, mines, food, drugs, and consumer products. We established the Medicare and Medicaid health care systems for elderly and poor people who can't pay the costs of private insurance and medical care.

Today we're still working at it. We're fixing what broke and making improvements so that our children can learn more, so we all can live and travel safely, earn a living, appreciate nature, seek medical treatment, ensure freedom and justice for all, and pay our fair share for all of this. Let's stop pointing the finger and laying blame. Let's start productive discussion and get on with the work of making a more perfect union.

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