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Head for the High Road

September 2, 2008, New York Times, Head for the High Road, by Bob Herbert.

quotes from two Presidents at Democratic Conventions.

Bill Clinton in 2008

“Our nation is in trouble on two fronts. The American dream is under siege at home, and America’s leadership in the world has been weakened. Middle-class and low-income Americans are hurting — with incomes declining; job losses, poverty and inequality rising; mortgage foreclosures and credit card debt increasing; health care coverage disappearing; and a very big spike in the cost of food, utilities and gasoline.

“And our position in the world has been weakened by too much unilateralism and too little cooperation, by a perilous dependence on imported oil, by a refusal to lead on global warming, by a growing indebtedness and a dependence on foreign lenders, by a severely burdened military, by a backsliding on global nonproliferation and arms control agreements, and by a failure to consistently use the power of diplomacy, from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America to Central and Eastern Europe.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936

Seventy-two years ago, in his renomination acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia (before more than 100,000 people gathered in Franklin Field), Franklin D. Roosevelt rose above the boiler-plate rhetoric of political speeches and spoke of his generation’s “rendezvous with destiny.”

He warned of the perils to the nation of economic inequality. “Liberty,” he said, “requires opportunity to make a living, a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.”

Roosevelt’s words echo across the decades because they resonate with the very meaning of America, a meaning that is so much deeper than what our politics have become. “We are fighting,” he told his audience, “to save a great and precious form of government, for ourselves and for the world.”

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