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We’ve come so far, but we still have so far to go

Updated: May 4, 2012 4:43PM



Far too often, we are swimming in blessings and drowning in complaints. When we measure what we’ve done by what is undone, we still have volumes of unfinished business. Yet, even as we sustain that quest, we should stop to understand the scope of our blessings.

This is true with America now. Our unfinished business remains our shared challenge. Too many homeless, too many hungry, too many unemployed, too many uninsured and too many children at risk remain in our mangers.

Yet, we are blessed with the capacity and the duty to make things better.

The insults showered on President Obama from the right and the disappointments expressed by the left should not be the only voices that are heard. President Obama’s election was a redemptive moment for America, after more than 300 years of slavery, segregation and terror.

And as president, he has challenged the country to make changes it cannot duck — reviving the economy, reforming health care, curbing Wall Street, moving to new energy and more. For this, he’s been denounced as a Kenyan Marxist radical, a threat to America’s free enterprise system. His wife, Michelle, has gone from being portrayed as a closet fist-bumping revolutionary to Michelle Antoinette. Even her important work on obesity has been scorned as reviving the “nanny state.”

American politics has always been rowdy, but the partisan and ideological alley fight distracts from the real battle — between reforms and entrenched interests and their lobbies. Obama and the last Congress should get credit for the progress that was made, but there is no question that the interests protected their subsidies and privileges.

Similarly, the personal assaults on Michelle Obama are not simply contemptible; they slight her work on a very real and costly social malady: the spread of obesity. Nearly one in three children is overweight or obese, with the accompanying risk of heart disease, cancer and, too often, diabetes. Obesity has tripled among children since 1980, and hospitalization of children for obesity related conditions is rising rapidly.

Michelle Obama has championed both personal responsibility (changing our diets) and changes in the law that would increase nutritional standards for food sold in schools (including school lunches and vending machines). The child nutrition bill that she pushed to get passed requires schools to serve more fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy products, and provides additional funding for those that do. Combined with the first lady’s efforts to increase awareness of the dangers of obesity, this is serious and good work addressing a significant national problem. She should be celebrated, not burlesqued for the effort.

We can’t let ideological fixations blind us to basic national needs. And we can’t let partisan battles distract from the real threat: that we’ll get neither efficient government nor competitive markets, but powerful industrial complexes that limit competition and capture taxpayer dollars. If this country continues to decline, it will not be because of Obama’s reforms, but rather because Big Oil, Big Pharma, global corporations and Wall Street have been able to enlist allies in both parties to block reforms that the country desperately needs.

We sing rather routinely “God Bless America” as if God owes it to us or our behavior toward one another warrants it. Rather we should be striving to merit grace and mercy. In this season of blessings, let us put the Republic above Republicans and Democracy above Democrats, and shine some light on both how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.



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