Friday, September 7, 2012

We the People

Last night, President Barack Obama said:
We, the people, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together ...

America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won't promise that now. Yes, our path is harder, but it leads to a better place. Yes, our road is longer, but we travel it together.

We don't turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up.
"We the people." "Bound together." "Leave no one behind." What the president did not mention is that there is a raging debate in our society today about the scope of "we," "us," "the people" -- about who counts as a member of our human (and, more particularly, American) community, bearing basic dignity and rights, and who or what instead may be discarded or used instrumentally for the benefit of those who do count. Obama once said that this foundational moral and political question is "above my pay grade." But the question of who is one of us and who may be killed by us is not above the pay grade of the president of the United States. A confident answer to that question is a prerequisite for the job, and our president flunked the test.

In fact, though, Obama has taken his stand, and done so with great zeal. He is committed to the proposition that unborn human beings -- members of our species at the earliest developmental stages -- merit no moral regard or legal protection and may be dismembered and killed for the convenience of the older, the stronger, the smarter, the independent. "We the people," for President Obama, does not include the unborn. Our "commitment to others" does not extend to the smallest and most vulnerable. And as we "leave no one behind," Obama is not counting the millions of young human beings for whom he wishes only death. He will not turn back.

"[W]e cannot go on forever feigning agnosticism about who is human," one of Obama's opponents, Paul Ryan, has written. "Now, after America has won the last century's hard-fought struggles against unequal human rights in the forms of totalitarianism abroad and segregation at home, I cannot believe any official or citizen can still defend the notion that an unborn human being has no rights that an older person is bound to respect."

But that is the Obama position. His is one of exclusion, discrimination, and the use of violence against the most innocent and defenseless in order to get what we want for ourselves. His opponents, Mitt Romney and Ryan, embrace a position of inclusion, equality, and respect and protection for every human being simply because they, like you and me, are human.

This utterly important question -- who are "We the People"? -- is a big part of what is at stake in the November election.