Delivered By Tad Daley in January 2005 Before Southern California Americans for Democratic Action, University of Southern California College Democrats, Stanford University’s Bechtel International Center, and the University of California at Berkeley International House. It also appeared in the January 20, 2005 edition of CommonDreams.org.
OATH OF OFFICE
I, Hypothetical Progressive World Citizen, Do Solemnly Swear, that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.
INTRODUCTION – THE CATHEDRAL
Chief Justice Rehnquist, Speaker of the House Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Frist, Former Vice President Cheney, Former President Bush.
Many years ago, an old Jesuit priest told me a story about something that happened many centuries ago. It was maybe the 10th or 11th century, and a traveler was venturing through medieval France, when he stumbled upon the very beginnings of the building of CHARTES. The Cathedral. They say it took more than a century to construct, and here it was, in its very earliest stages.
So he approaches some of the workers, and says: “Hello. Uh … what are you doing?”
“Me?” says the first. “I’m carving stone. That’s what I do. I’m a stone carver.” “Me?” says the second. “I’m cutting glass. That’s what I do. I’m a glass cutter.”
And then he sees a bent over old woman, sweeping dust and debris, with a gnarled up broom that looks like it’s seen every bit as much of life as she has. And the traveler says: “Hello. Uh … what are you doing?”
And the old woman stops what she’s doing, rises to her full height (4 feet 11 inches), and says: “Me? I’M BUILDING A CATHEDRAL. A cathedral that will soar to the heavens. A cathedral that will stand for a thousand years. A cathedral that will give everlasting glory to the spirit of the divine.”
“COME BACK IN A COUPLE OF CENTURIES, TRAVELER, and see, what I, have wrought.”
Now there are of course two points to this fable. The first, is that we’re engaged in a marathon, not a sprint, that our works may take more than a century to construct … and may endure for far longer than that. And the second, is that every one of us has a role to play, none of us are spectators, every one of us can be a part of our great collaborative undertaking.
So I come before you today, to tell you about our new cathedral, whose construction we commence today.
Nearly a century ago one of my great heroes, H.G. Wells, wrote in his brilliant Outline of History: “Every religion that is worth the name, every philosophy, warns us to lose ourselves in something greater than ourselves.” If there is anything that defines us, it is that we see ourselves as members of communities larger than ourselves.
We’re tired of politicians who speak to us only as “taxpayers,” when what we crave is to be engaged as “citizens.”
We’re tired of politicians who ask us “are you better off than you were four years ago?” when what we want to be asked is: “are WE better off?” As a nation. As a planet. As a people.
We know that we are more, together, than any of us ever can be alone. We are concerned – in a distinction Jeremy Rifken recently drew – not so much with “belongings” as we are with “belonging.”
We believe that dedicating oneself to public service – government, the nonprofit sector, volunteer work – is a higher and nobler calling than the exclusive pursuit of private gain. We share the judgment of the science fiction writer Spider Robinson, when he declares that there are no passengers on Spaceship Earth, only crew members.
OUR ETHIC OF HUMAN UNITY
The picture taken by the Voyager spacecraft from beyond Pluto shows our planet as a tiny speck, almost completely lost in the glare of the Sun. Carl Sagan wrote of this photograph: ” Look at that dot. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of lived out their lives. … Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.”
We advocate a global policy agenda that reflects the truth of Earth from space. We compare the radiant blues and greens of our fragile planet to the blackness of the cosmos, and recognize the infinite preciousness of our lonely home. We insist that the Whole Earth is perhaps something greater than the sum of its parts.
We believe that the pursuit of “vital national interests” ought to be accompanied by a calculus of transnational interests. We suspect that an expanded ethic of planetary patriotism and allegiance to humanity may be no less than the Great Story of the 21st Century.
We stand in the tradition of what the great psychologist Erik Erikson called an “all-human solidarity.” We see the first glimmerings of what the great political scientist Robert C. Tucker calls an “ethic of specieshood.” We are the vanguard of what Voltaire called “the party of humanity.”
PROTESTING WARS … OR PROTESTING WAR?
Now this ethic of human unity leads us to some stark conclusions about matters of war and peace. Mr. Bush, I know you love your country. But on September 11, 2001, you told the nation that “the first war of the 21st Century” had now been joined. It was as if it was self-evident that this new century would be soaked in at least as much blood as the last — when more than 100 million souls were sacrificed, face down in the mud, slaughtered on the altars of war.
We take no such fatalistic view of the destiny of the human race. In the spring of 2003, many of us here today demonstrated against a specific war, the consequences of which we can still only dimly foresee. But we must talk about more than just preventing this war or that war.
The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, nearly two centuries ago, dreamed that someday we would “hear the war drums throb no longer, (and) see the battle flags all furled.” We maintain that there can be a next step in the social evolution of our species. We aspire to make war irrevocably part of our past rather than permanently part of our future. We believe that it is within the power of the human imagination to envision abolishing war itself.
But now we must turn to a specific war. Now we must speak the truth about the quagmire in which our nation finds our self at the outset of 2005.
America’s invasion of the sovereign state of Iraq was a cataclysmic mistake. It has already turned out to be one of the biggest fiascoes in American history.
- This war is illegal under both the UN Charter and the US Constitution.
- It was unprovoked, unwarranted, unjustified, and unnecessary.
- It has become an obscenely expensive financial sinkhole at a time when local governments here at home are starved for resources.
- It was based on distortions and deceptions and deliberate falsehoods.
- It was motivated NOT by a quest for phantom weapons of mass destruction, but by a determination to control oil, to provide vast opportunities for war profiteering, and to build new American military bases intended to remain for decades to come.
- It has brought us Abu Ghraib — a blight on our conscience which will haunt us for decades to come.
- And it is a war that must now be brought to an end. Because the American occupation is the high octane fuel that feeds the resistance. Some say that if we get out we will leave the country without security. But the primary CAUSE of the insecurity today is us.
- So I say today to the people of Iraq, we will find a way to get the UN in and the US out. We will tear up those contracts with Halliburton and Bechtel. We renounce all intentions to establish permanent American military bases in your country. We will find a way to cede you full control over your own resources, and your own rebuilding, and your own security forces, and foreign forces on your own soil. We will provide you with reparations for the damage we have wrought.
- And perhaps most importantly, I say today to the people of Iraq, we apologize — for the immense harm we have inflicted on your population, on your infrastructure, and on your national soul.
A PROGRESSIVE FOREIGN POLICY VISION
Let me turn now to the broad international arena, and sketch out our broad international philosophy. It’s time for America to look out upon the world for friends, not enemies. Time to tell the world that we wish to be their partner in peace, not their chieftain in war. Time for the greatest military power in the history of the world to act with humility and restraint.
Can’t we be something more on the world stage than a hammer looking for nails? We will pursue foreign policies that employ carrots more than sticks. We will work to dry up the swamps of hopelessness and despair that cause vulnerable individuals to be seduced down the terrorist road. Now that I’m president, you’re going to see at least as many commercials for Peace Corps recruitment as you do now for Army Ranger recruitment. We intend to be both tough on terror and tough on the CAUSES of terror.
This week the UN Millennium Project reported that nearly 3 billion people live on about $2 a day, but that we could end extreme poverty within a decade if governments simply came through on the development assistance commitments they’ve already made.
Mr. Bush, I know you love your country. But you know how much your Administration expended on development aid for every $100 of national income? Fifteen cents. Fifteen cents.
During his own Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy called on our nation to lead “a long twilight struggle … against the common enemies of man – tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”
So I say to you today that we will work for policies on trade and globalization that institute enforceable standards on decent compensation, access to unions, and a healthy working environment for all those who toil to fuel the engine of the global economy. And I say to you today that America will now wield its unprecedented power to abolish extreme hunger, to deliver clean water, to seriously confront AIDS and other preventable diseases (especially in Africa), to provide universal education and universal literacy (especially for girls), to end human trafficking, and most of all, to commit to ending the extreme poverty that afflicts fully half the human race. This presidency is about bridging the chasm between rich and poor – around the block and around the world.
THE RULE OF LAW
From this day forward, our country renews a rock solid commitment to the world rule of law. Just as no individual is above the law within countries, no nation can be above the law among countries. We believe that if we disregard the law of nations we’re left with the law of the jungle, where the only constraint on violence is the power and ruthlessness of those who would employ it. Rest assured, in that world, we won’t be the only ones to employ it.
This is why as president I will immediately re-engage in the web of treaties that the Bush Administration unilaterally tried to discard and destroy — the ABM Treaty, the Test Ban Treaty, the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions, the Small Arms Treaty, the Landmine Treaty, the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Climate Treaty.
I will endeavor to build enduring world peace through the world rule of law. I will make our country once again a member in good standing of the community of nations. I will work to replace the law of force with the force of law.
A DEPARTMENT OF PEACE
In 1793 one Dr. Benjamin Rush published “A Plan for a Peace-Office.” “As the War-Office … was established in the time of peace,” Rush wrote, “it is equally reasonable that a Peace-Office should be established in the time of war.”
Well this president intends to revive Dr. Rush’s idea, and to establish a Department of Peace during this time, once again, of war. If our country must spend hundreds of billions every year preparing for war, how about just 1% of that amount to work on preventing war?
The Department of Peace will seek to make nonviolence an organizing principle of society. It will ensure that nonviolent policy options are always on the table within the councils of our government. It will work to promote mediation and conflict resolution internationally, and also teach nonviolent methods of resolving disputes domestically. It will seek to articulate a paradigm of people resolving differences without resorting to primitive violence, and a clear and sparkling vision of peace as the natural human condition.
CURTAILING THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
The time has come to end to the slander that those of us who advocate peace are less than patriotic. When did patriotism become equated with absence of dissent? Who decided that if we want our country to use its military might less, it must be because we love our country less? We protested against the Vietnam War BECAUSE we are patriots! We tried to stop the illegal invasion of Iraq BECAUSE we love our country! We mobilize and march in the streets because we know, as my predecessor Thomas Jefferson said, that dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
How many Americans know that the American taxpayer is now soaked military expenditures greater than all the other nations of the world put together? Think about that – less than 5% of world population, more than 50% of world military spending.
How many Americans know that we’ve established 725 bases in well more than half of all the countries in the world? How many Americans know that they’re paying for 234 American military golf courses overseas? Your tax dollars at work, my friends.
Oh, but I almost forgot. Every time we actually ask the armed forces to fight they head to Capitol Hill, hat in hand, to say “we need more.” “Wars cost extra.” What’s the defense budget for if not to fight wars?
This week I will order the Pentagon to immediately begin planning to cut its budget by 25% — freeing up more than $100 million for more productive pursuits. I assure you that our Defense Department can make ends meet with $300 billion rather than $400+ billion per year.
This president will not hesitate to stand up FOR the military when they are right. But this president also will not hesitate to stand up TO the military when they are wrong.
Social justice advocates like to say that our job to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable. So for the military/industrial complex in this country, we have a message for you today: DON’T GET TOO COMFORTABLE.
Now let me talk about the most pernicious and most unnecessary component of our military establishment – the nuclear component. This week I will cancel the “bunker busters” and “mini-nuke” programs the Bush Administration commenced. Look up OXYMORON, and I think MININUKE is likely to be the example in there, huh?
This week too I will cancel the missile defense program and all other programs that would defile the heavens with the militarization of space. The word “defense” here is a transparent canard, because missile defense at its core is an offensive tool designed to enhance American military supremacy.
But most importantly, it’s time to confront the nuclear double standard, America’s nuclear narcissism, our towering nuclear hypocrisy that so many other nations so resent. We devote endless diplomatic energies to keeping Iran and North Korea from acquiring a single crude nuclear weapons. But we say not one word about MORE THAN TEN THOUSAND sophisticated American nuclear warheads – that we apparently intend to retain forever until the end of time.
How come can we have them when they can’t? Mr. Bush, I know you love your country. But just this week we learn from The New Yorker magazine that you have conducted secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran, planning for a future preemptive strike against that country. Doesn’t Iran have the right to defend itself? The nuclear double standard is militarily unnecessary. It is morally indefensible. And perhaps most importantly, it is utterly politically unsustainable.
That is why Paul Nitze, no great liberal but a hard-line cold warrior who died last month at 97, concluded toward the end of his life that our atomic arsenal is “a threat mostly to ourselves,” that he “can think of no circumstances under which it would be wise for the U.S. to use nuclear weapons,” and that “the simplest and most direct answer to the problem of nuclear weapons has always been their complete elimination.”
My friends, instead of building a shield in the sky, it’s time to get rid of the swords.
Now the United Nations, while far from perfect, is the best vehicle we have to assemble the collective conscience of the human community. We are convinced that it remains our last best hope for peace on earth.
And we think that the time has now arrived for democratizing and empowering the UN system — created after all a long six decades ago for the problems of a very different world. Last month a United Nations High Level Panel proposed finally expanding the Security Council to reflect the realities of today’s world. But we say that’s only a start. When I speak next September before the 60th anniversary General Assembly session, I will advocate at least three more structural changes in the UN system:
First, I want to see a genuine democratization of our structures of global governance. How about some kind of weighted voting system for the General Assembly — like that already used in the European Union – and giving it real international lawmaking authority like the Security Council now possesses? And even better, how about a directly elected “People’s Assembly” to stand alongside the General Assembly? Even if only advisory, this body would recognize that just as we can elect particular individuals to represent us at the local, state, and national levels, so too might we do so at the global level. These changes would ensure that the UN is not simply bullied and bought by great powers pursuing their own narrow self interests, but that it instead provides a voice in the affairs of the world for all the peoples of the world, and pursues the interests of the whole of the human community.
Second, I intend to propose that the world body institute some version of the “Tobin Tax,” which would impose a minute surcharge on international currency speculators, and provide vast new resources for the United Nations and other common international purposes.
And third, I believe the UN needs its own permanent, all- volunteer rapid deployment force with both military enforcement and civilian peace building components. Such a force could go into cauldrons like Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s and Sudan and Congo today, when national governments are unwilling to dispatch their own national forces because there are, for them, no vital national interests at stake.
Now such a force is years away from reality. And for all the attention devoted to the Asian tsunami, we forget that probably MORE people have died, and probably MORE people have been uprooted, not by acts of God but by the acts of men in Sudan. And my friends, the people of Sudan cannot wait.
So this president, this week, will ask the UN Security Council and the US Congress to authorize the immediate dispatch of an American humanitarian intervention force to Sudan. Their mission – so much different from Iraq! – will be to put an immediate halt to ongoing crimes against humanity, to establish and enforce safe corridors and safe areas for victims, and to begin to provide the conditions by which some kind of enduring settlement might eventually be forged.
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH AND THE HUMAN SPIRIT
Now, the environment, of course, is an issue that transcends all human borders. One of my favorite authors is the MacArthur “Genius” award winner Octavia Butler. Her award winning novel Parable of the Sower is set in California 2024 – transformed and devastated by global warming. It rains once every five years. Cities are dark at night. Farmlands are destroyed by drought. Cholera is widespread. Hurricanes ravage our coast. The poor and the hungry multiply.
This science fiction novel is as close to future science fact as any work of fiction can be. Global warming threatens to do damage so profound that Osama Bin Laden wouldn’t know where to begin to match it. That world is coming � unless we do something about it.
We insist that not just human life, but all life anywhere on god’s green earth, is deserving of our respect, our care, and our ethical behavior.
The time has long since passed for us to heed the alarms that scientists have been sounding for decades.
I will fight to preserve and restore natural ecosystems both in America and worldwide.
I will wield the presidency’s political muscle to generate serious long-term investments in renewable, sustainable, and clean energy technologies.
I refuse to allow global population control to be held hostage any more by sanctimonious American politicians.
I intend to end the profoundly immoral trade in pesticides banned by the US but sold to countries in the developing world.
And I will urge all Americans to their devote energies to ecological restoration projects. When young and old come together to plant trees, create prairies and bring streams long buried in concrete to daylight, they do more than heal biological communities. They heal the human spirit.
BRIDGING THE CHASM BETWEEN THE POWERFUL AND THE POWERLESS
Now let me leave the international arena, and talk about some matters right here at home. In America today the chasm between the rich and the poor is growing every day. Listen to just one single statistic. In the city of Los Angeles today, where I come from, the wealth of the top 200 individuals is greater than the wealth of the bottom 2 million.
I refuse to remain silent as we witness the destruction of the middle class, the growth of a permanent underclass, and the emergence of what can only be called an American plutocracy.
Too many of the American jobs created during the so-called “Booming 1990s” were crummy jobs – part-time, temporary, low-paying, no benefits, no potential, no hope. I want to help create good full-time jobs with the promise of improvement. We want an America where anyone willing to work hard and play by the rules can achieve the American dream.
We know, from hard experience, that the “magic of the marketplace” does not always lead to optimal economic and social outcomes. So we will convert minimum wages to living wages.
We will create tax incentives for companies that create good jobs with significant benefits.
And we will impose tax consequences for those who ship American jobs overseas.
Remember I said that our job is to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable? Well you Benedict Arnold CEOs who ship American jobs to sweatshops abroad, and then hide your profits in offshore tax havens, we have a message for you: DON’T GET TOO COMFORTABLE.
THE TAX BURDEN
Our tax system became shockingly more regressive during the past four years. America’s wealthiest taxpayers toil under the yoke of the lowest marginal rates anywhere in the developed world. The resulting deficits have lain down buckets of red ink that will haunt our children for decades to come. This can only be called eating our seed corn.
The health of our nation’s budget is not just an issue that should arouse the interest of bean counters and accountants. It is a statement of national values — especially the value of whether this generation should pay its own bills and even leave something behind for its successors. It’s called stewardship, and it’s purported to be a sacred American value.
Mr. Bush, I know you love your country. But when you assumed office in 2001 the federal government was projected to run cumulative budget surpluses over the next decade of more than $5.5 trillion. In fact, Chairman Alan Greenspan publicly worried at that time about the disruptive effects of paying off the entire national debt too quickly!
Needless to say, Chairman Greenspan does not worry about that anymore.
Repeated rounds of tax cuts and huge increases in federal spending, mostly for defense, have thrown the federal treasury into a bottomless well of spiraling debt. Several of Wall Street’s most conservative investment houses are predicting the federal government will run a cumulative deficit over the next decade of $5 trillion.
And you know when these deficits will occur? Just as 77 million Baby Boomers are beginning to retire.
It’s time for Americans to start acting like responsible adults rather than intoxicated teenagers on spring break running up someone else’s credit card bill. The nation’s fiscal mess can’t be fixed overnight but we need to begin. Right now. It’s time to bring an end to corporate welfare giveaways that provide billions in tax breaks and subsidies for corporations pursuing only private gain rather than the public good. It’s time to make the tax burden — “the price of civilization” according to Oliver Wendell Holmes — weigh more fairly on those who have much, and to ease it from the backs of the poor and middle classes where too much of it now lies.
Now it’s time to discuss what can only be called the paramount social justice issue of our time: providing quality health care for all. The time has come not to repair, but to replace our hopelessly flawed current system with nonprofit universal single-payer national health insurance.
Our plan will be quite similar to the systems used in virtually all the other developed countries in the world. In the U.S. we spend 14 % of our Gross Domestic Product on health care. Canada, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway all spend less than 10%. Yet not only do all these countries have a higher life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates. They provide health care to all of their people! We, by contrast, leave a full 15% of our population out in the cold.
And the American health care system is hardly perfect for the other 85%! Millions of Americans who do have insurance must pay exorbitant rates to keep it, and pay exorbitant co-payments, and pay exorbitant prices for prescriptions, and run a gauntlet of administrative hassles to actually get the health care they’ve already paid for. In many cases, the burdens of the bills and burdens of the worries leave us, time after time, with a broken American family.
About a year ago in Los Angeles I walked the picket lines with workers in two strikes which paralyzed much of my region – supermarket clerks and bus mechanics. The primary issue in both cases? Which side would pay for how much of the ever-escalating cost of private health insurance. My friends, it is time to bring these crippling battles over this singular issue once and for all to an end.
Our system will make American businesses more competitive by relieving them of this burden! It will eliminate completely the archaic idea that employers ought to be responsible for the health care of their employees. Health care is not just a privilege if you happen to have the right job. Health care is a human right. And we believe that health care should be a public good, not a private commodity.
Remember what I said about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable? Well you private insurance companies with your bloated bureaucracies, blizzards of paperwork, mammoth advertising budgets, and Byzantine rules consciously designed to avoid paying claims, we have a message for you today: DON’T GET TOO COMFORTABLE.
Let me say just a few words now about civil liberties. In my Administration, the thickening veil of secrecy and deceit will be removed from our democracy – and the PATRIOT ACT will be removed as well. We maintain a nonnegotiable commitment to civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, immigrant rights, prisoner rights (including prisoner education and rehabilitation), and liberty and justice for all.
And I say to you today, ANY individual in U.S. custody, ANY individual, is entitled to the protections EITHER of the Geneva Conventions OR the US Constitution. No more detentions without charge. No more incarcerations without access to counsel. This president just swore an oath that he would defend the Constitution of the United States. And this president will keep that promise.
Now education. Christa McCauliffe, the first civilian in space, said shortly before she ascended to the heavens: “I touch the future. I teach.” Mr. Bush, I know you love your country. But your No Child Left Behind program has shortchanged both our teachers and the children we place in their hands.
I believe that teaching is the most underpaid and underprestiged profession of our age. In a wise civilization our teachers would be rewarded at least as much as investment bankers and Hollywood moguls. Our best and brightest young people must be financially encouraged to make teaching a lifetime career, and financial incentives must be created to keep successful, experienced teachers in the classroom.
In obsessing about standardized tests, we force our teachers to teach only for the test. Public schools are under the gun to raise test scores above all else, without regard to the economic, social, linguistic and educational challenges that face many school districts – especially in America’s inner cities.
I want to bring an end to unequal educational funding. Few things are more shameful in the land of the free than children living 3 or 4 miles apart having vastly different educational opportunities. I want to see more counselors and social workers in our schools, to help children from troubled environments triumph over their challenges.
Schools must also become focal points not just for children, but for their communities. Literacy education, consumer education, parenting skills, technology training, career counseling, current events forums, and recreational activities are all services that schools should provide to parents and families.
I am for teaching character, responsibility, ethics, wisdom, imagination, social skills, healthy habits, an appreciation for art and culture and beauty, an ability to think for oneself, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you — not just reading and writing and arithmetic. Today’s learners, after all, will be tomorrow’s voters, journalists, community activists, parents, neighbors, and most of all citizens.
Now, Social Security saved our nation from having a permanently impoverished and probably chronically homeless elder class. Social Security allows vigorous citizens to enjoy the prime of life without facing fear, poverty, and disgrace. Social Security saves each generation from the burden of having dependent elders ask for a portion of the resources that are needed to rear and educate their children.
If Social Security is privatized, it can only result in massive cuts in monthly benefits for everyone. If Social Security is privatized, the retirement age will inevitably be raised toward 70. If Social Security is privatized, billions of taxpayer dollars will end up lining the pockets of Wall Street campaign contributors. If Social Security is privatized, America will be plunged right back into the nightmare from which we were rescued by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Social Security is not in crisis. The long-term viability of the system can be ensured with two measures. The first should be raising the Social Security tax cap by at least twenty thousand dollars. Why should Bill Gates and Warren Buffett be relieved of all Social Security obligations by January 2nd or January 3rd every year? Perhaps we should even explore imposing the tax on all income with a diminishing percentage.
The second measure is means testing. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett would likely be the first to agree that they will likely not need significant Social Security benefits. If their circumstances change, Social Security will be there for them … but if they do not, then it’s got to be better for our society that those resources be devoted elsewhere.
I do think everyone should draw something. The way that Social Security connects ALL Americans is one of its great benefits. We should preserve such connective tissue in the social fabric.
Now after the several electoral fiascoes our democracy has experienced in recent years, we intend to explore imaginative new structures of U.S. electoral reform. We will work to enact uniform nationwide voting standards and technology – with paper trails. We will pursue structural electoral reforms such as Election Day registration, an Election Day national holiday, a single nationwide Election Day closing time, nonpartisan election administration, prisoner voting rights, public financing, free TV time, preferential voting allowing for instant runoffs, and proportional representation. And yes, we believe it’s time to commence a national conversation about the Electoral College – and consider the possibility of electing our presidents through a nationwide popular vote. Even IF that means that if we’d had such a system in place four years ago, I wouldn’t be standing here right now – President Al Gore would.
Now a word about one of the most contentious issues in American politics today. want to state unambiguously, this president supports gay marriage. I still get choked up when I hear the story of the Minnesota married couple who ordered flowers to be sent to San Francisco City Hall, and when they were asked for a name, they replied: “Oh, it doesn’t matter. Just deliver them to any one of the gay couples standing out there in line waiting to get married.”
Straight people standing up for gay marriage – that’s our America. White people standing up for voting rights for people of color. Men standing up to prevent violence against women. Jews standing up to oppose discrimination against Arabs. Religious people standing up for the separation of church and state. That’s our America. That’s our planet. And that’s our century.
“Boldness,” said Goethe, “has genius and power and magic in it. Whatever you do, or dream you can do, begin it.”
And speaking of beginning, I’m beginning to come to the end, I promise.
You’ve hung in with me this long, so I ask your indulgence to discuss one more issue. Forty four years ago, President Kennedy said we ought to go to the moon. Well, what I think, finally, is that we ought to go to Mars.
Space exploration sends one very clear message. Here is a civilization, whatever its flaws, that has the courage, the vision and the curiosity to look beyond itself. Our national purpose must be about more than thwarting terror and nuclear proliferation. We will be remembered in a couple of hundred years less for the cataclysms we avoided than for the quests we had the courage to commence.
We should go to Mars for the same reason that Ptolemy and Copernicus and Kepler peered into the void — because “all humans, by nature,” as Aristotle said in the eternal opening line of his Metaphysics, “desire to know.” We should go for the serendipity, as what President Kennedy called “an act of faith and vision, for we do not know what benefits await us.” We should go because we want to do something magnificent and awe-inspiring, something that will belong to the ages, something our descendants will call a Great Thing.
Now many people are going to ask where the money is going to come from for such an enterprise. For one thing we intend to do this in collaboration with other nations, not in competition. For another we hope to explore imaginative public/private financing schemes – such as selling the TV rights rather than just giving them away for free. But even if we were going to fund the entire undertaking from the pockets of the American taxpayer – which we won’t — NASA studies have repeatedly concluded that for somewhere in the neighborhood of $50-60 billion, we could send fully THREE round-trip missions to the Red Planet.
How much is that? About $4 billion per year over 15 years. And how much is that? EXACTLY 1% of our current bloated and unaccountable Pentagon budget! If we’re going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on “defense” every year, can’t we spend a drop in the proverbial bucket for something that’s spectacularly worth defending?
And so today, I announce my intention for humans to set foot on Mars before the 50th anniversary of Aldrin and Armstrong – July 20, 2019. I have no doubt we can do this in 14 years. Apollo, with 1960s technology, took only 8 years from President Kennedy’s announcement to planting the flag of the United States on the moon.
Now if there’s any program I’m NOT gonna micromanage it will be this one. But I do have one request.
Envision with me please the moment, when the door opens, and the first fortunate human chosen stands silhouetted in the doorway — whoever she may be. She is perhaps today a junior high school student in Mississippi, or Madagascar, or Mozambique. She steps cautiously down that ladder – one step, two steps, three steps — and sets her boot squarely onto the surface of Planet Mars. And when she does so, let’s ask her NOT to plant the flag of the United States. Let’s ask her to plant the flag of Planet Earth. Let’s go, representing the whole of the family of humankind. Let’s look forward to that, as perhaps the defining moment of the 21st Century.
Now I know that many of these things may not be immediately politically realistic. But as Wayne Gretzky likes to say, you always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. We reject the notion that the American political agenda is set in stone. For those things that may seem remote in the present political moment, we say, we’ll never get there unless someone says that we ought to get there. We’ll never arrive at any goal unless we’re brave enough to say that we have a goal. We’ll never create the world we want unless we have a vision of the world we wanna create.
A wise society is one that looks more than half a lifetime in either direction. George F. Kennan, America’s great centenarian sage, likes to observe that we confront our epochal challenges not just for the benefit of our descendants, but as a debt to our ancestors. The author Theodore Sturgeon calls upon us to offer “reverence for those who bore you and those who bore them, back and back to the first wild creatures whose hearts leaped when they saw the stars.”
This is what we aspire to leave as our legacy for future generations. This, my fellow Americans, this, is our cathedral.
It will not be completed this year. Its edifice will scarcely be begun during our short time in office.
But someday, my fellow stone carvers, my fellow glass cutters, my fellow broom pushers, ours will be a cathedral that will soar to the heavens. Ours will be a cathedral that will stand for a thousand years. Ours will be a cathedral that will give everlasting glory to the spirit of the divine.
Come back in a couple of centuries, traveler, and see what we have wrought.