Share: 'Ways Our Hopes and Dreams are Bound Together'

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I thought we might take the opportunity to take the president up on a challenge he posed in his speech in Tucson:


Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.

President Barack Obama

It would be great to get some liberals and conservatives — and others are welcome of course too — to do this. And it may not change whether you want the health reform law or the Bush tax cuts, but maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it makes us a better country anyway just to say out loud some common values. 

So can we do that, just as a way of contributing to a national deep breath?

This can be hard, I admit. We can be so locked into believing that we know what is right and the other political side is somewhere between wrong and evil. But let’s avoid the temptation to slip in that backhanded diss. Let’s just see if we can articulate, as the president asked, some of the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together. Maybe, as he says, that will expand our moral imaginations.

I’ll start by saying liberal and conservative Americans dreams are bound together in wanting safe streets for our children. Liberal and conservative dreams are bound together in wanting every person to have enough basics to live on. Liberal and conservative dreams are bound together in wanting freedom and in wanting justice, and in wanting to live in a world governed by the rule of law, not the rule of might.

And some of you might be getting cynical even at those words. But I believe that the large majority of Americans are united by all those things. I think as people with different politics, we believe in achieving them in very different ways — often very different ways. But maybe the president is right that we gain something today just by articulating our common ideals and common aspirations.

For one day, we don’t have to ask how and get into the usual disagreements about how. I’m only asking — how about you?



More in:

Comments [49]

Jim Rapp

Thank You , Mr Howard, for spreading the truth. We now live in a global community and we need to begin to create a plan or framework that will allow all peoples of the world to prosper. The exemptions from the "Clean Water" and "Clean Air Act, granted to the oil and gas industry represent the greatest threat to Health and Safety of Americans in many years. In addition to being the greatest Wealth Shift. from average homeowners and buisness entitys that depend on the clean rivers, streams, and wilderness to an industry with the worst environmental record in the world. "If no good or evil can be done except in the name of profit than Americas' best days are surely behind her"

Sep. 19 2011 11:03 AM

@Carol from Willow, NY:

I came across this after my last post.
It is illustrative of the type of conflicts your "best intentioned" morality would cause you to "manage".
From the land where lies a health care system coveted by Donald Berwick, the head of our present government's Medicare and Medicaid programs.

'Worried well' should be banned from having flu jab says leading GP

Это - свободная страна!

Jan. 16 2011 12:43 PM

@Carol from Willow, NY:

Well Carol, if we can get all the present and future doctors and health care providers to submit to your personal morality and world view, we won't have much difficulty establishing the totalitarian system you desire.
Make no mistake about it, no one will actually be allowed to "opt" out. You'll need total control of the entire medical service delivery system, ( what providers can offer; who they can offer it to; the levels of compensation that can be required by the providers; the sources mandated to finance the cost of the entire system ) - all must be regulated, and any departure from the regulations must be discouraged, negatively sanctioned and finally punished.
How much energy are you willing to devote to establishing your standards? How much regulation are those who disagree with you required to endure?

Suggested Research: Orwell's "Animal Farm";
Pasternak's "Dr. Zhivago"; Golding's "Lord of the Flies".

Jan. 15 2011 02:58 AM
Estelle from Austin

Both "pro-lifers" and "pro-choicers" have the same goal: Fewer unwanted children in the world. We just have different ways of getting there.

(In my biased eyes, here are the opposing solutions: Pro-lifers want to force women to want babies, or to find other women who do. Pro-choicers want to let women deal with their own unplanned pregnancies.)

Jan. 14 2011 12:54 PM
Amy from Manhattan

In response to Mike's call yesterday, I appreciate his service & his patriotism, but I have to question the idea that the woman who knocked away the magazine the shooter was trying to reload with & the man who was shot shielding his wife from the bullet were acting out of "American spirit." Many people in other countries would keep a killer from reloading if they had a chance, & I'm sure many would shield someone they love from a bullet. Americans have no monopoly on heroic acts like these, & the idea that we do implies that people of other nationalities are somehow lesser.

Jan. 14 2011 10:58 AM
Carol from Willow, NY

I think framing the question of universal health care as a moral outrage or imperative is an unnecessarily harsh choice. Universal health care is a fundamental human need and one our advanced society and economy are fully able to provide -- as nearly every other advanced society does. For me the moral outrage is that health care in the a luxury commodity, provided on a for-profit basis: those who can afford it will have it, those who can't go without. We provide other essential services and health care should be no different. I personally would support a small VAT or other consumption tax (which is less regressive than a flat tax) or modest income tax surcharge to build a universal
insurance fund...everybody contributes, everybody has access.
Thank you,

Jan. 14 2011 10:49 AM
Hugh from Manhattan

I don't think this will change a thing on our national discourse. What has changed and gets forgotten is what happened to the victims. Every time I think about what Gabrielle Giffords is going to endure for the rest of her life, it shocks me. Did the deaths of John and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, change the national discourse? Did Sept 11th soften our political differences or our political discourse?

Does it count that Rush Limbaugh says liberals are protecting the Tucson shooter and using him for political ends? Does it count that those who disagree with Obama, left and right but I think more on the right, think he has an agenda to damage this country?

Jan. 14 2011 10:29 AM
Estelle from Austin

The response of the crowd during the speech was most inspiring to me. Particularly the wild applause for references to the basic, founding ideals of our country. I'm sure attendees have a spectrum of political viewpoints, but everyone really does agree---and takes great pride---in what our country stands for, and aims to be.

The arguments begin in trying to work out the nuts and bolts of how to get there.

Jan. 13 2011 02:05 PM
Michael Klein from Brooklyn, NY

Regarding civility in debate. I don't see a problem with tough rhetoric -- people need to express their feelings and ideas even when others do not find them so pleasant. What is a problem is when a person is only criticized and opponents can never say a good word about him. If you ask me about George Bush, I will tell you that I have much personal respect for him, but I disagree with many of his policies. His environmental policies were for the most part abysmal. In what I just said, I managed some praise for Mr. Bush in otherwise critical remarks. When I hear political pundits talk about Barak Obama, they can't say a single good word about him. Everything he does is a reason for scorn and ridicule. Even the things he does that everybody can agree is good is evidence for some hidden agenda. Likewise, some people who criticize Sarah Palin (I for one can't stand her) also can't find anything good to say about her, which is just as wrong. When we need to criticize, we need to mention the good along with the bad.

Jan. 13 2011 01:44 PM
mej from manhattan

I had mixed feelings about the President's speech. Although at times quite moving, it seemed to, at least implicitly, support the false equivalence "both sides do it" meme so prevalent in the MSM these last few days. Brian's mention of Erik Ericson's claim that it was a rebuke to liberals confirmed my discomfort.

We need not only consolation but healing, and healing requires an unflinching look at reality. This post goes to the root of what was missing in the speech:

Jan. 13 2011 12:10 PM
mej from manhattan

I had mixed feelings about the President's speech. Although at times quite moving, it seemed to, at least implicitly, support the false equivalence "both sides do it" meme so prevalent in the MSM these last few days. Brian's mention of Erik Ericson's claim that it was a rebuke to liberals confirmed my discomfort.

We need not only consolation but healing, and healing requires an unflinching look at reality. This post goes to the root of what was missing in the speech:

Jan. 13 2011 12:05 PM
Francisco from Los Angeles

What unites us? It all depends on who "us" is. We choose not to know what is inconvenient. We enjoy the freedoms this country gives us at the same time we all see the big divide between people whom choose not to be informed and those who do. Part of being American is being educated and informed.

Jan. 13 2011 12:01 PM

President Obama reminded us that we are all Americans and we all love the country and our children. But as I listened to the President, I was reminded of the persistent dilemma of how we as a society resolve differences on the array of complex issues facing the country in the interest of social progress. I agree that defining the values and things that bind us together is probably the best place to start. As a citizen, I would like a government that works and serves the interests of the American people.
We as a society and our political system seem to be mired in an intractable conundrum––when issues are argued in terms of opinion rather than fact, they cannot be resolved and the debate devolves into inaction and shouting. The array of challenges we face as a nation, whatever they may be, remain whether we can decide what to do or not, i.e. how to respond to the recommendations of climate scientists or whether healthcare is a human right or a privilege based on the ability to afford it. We really do not have the luxury of dithering.
There is no certainty; absolutes in human affairs are extremely rare; information is imperfect. So, how are we to reach consensus and decide on a course of action when there is no certainty. We do have facts, empirical, objective, verifiable; the scientific method that has developed over the last 600 years was forged to determine and understand the laws of nature and our place in it. I believe we must try to bring the same rigor methods to forging social policy that we bring to science. We have examples of resolving debate and making decisions: in our advocacy based judicial system. Doctors when facing complex options in life and death decisions, often conference in order come to a consensus based on their best knowledge. However, in the social political realm, when academic studies are cited in an attempt to reach a fact-based policy, their opponents will challenge and cite findings that support their position. How do we resolve this in the interest of moving the country if not on facts, who is the arbiter?
It seems that everything is politicized now. And it is a recipe for disaster. I believe that the means of reaching consensus must be grounded on evidence-based, impartial and de-politicized fact.

Jan. 13 2011 11:52 AM
Dessolena from Red Hook - Brooklyni

I believe that we as a nation must reject the Bush administration's, "Leave no child behind" concept and embrace the concept of treasuring every child and individual for any special talent they possess. The American public school system has devolved into a collegiate puppy mill where all children are trained and brainwashed into thinking that without at least a B.A. - their lives are doomed.

Not everybody is wired for this. We need more great bread bakers, mechanics, shoe makers and seamstresses and tailors. We need to become a nation where creation is valued above consuming. Our government should foster and promote a new system of apprenticeship for children that they could enter INSTEAD of middle or high school or college. And these years of apprenticeship should be valued as much or more than years spent at university.

If every child in America had to take an aptitude test instead a regents exam or other now required testing and if the results were used by parents and educators to guide children to their true life's work... We'd have a lot less disenfranchised and depressed adults scrambling for jobs they already know they'd hate.

And I bet we'd have almost no angry young men who are isolated with too much time on their hands stockpiling semiautomatics and ammo in their bedrooms. Unless they were training to be gunsmiths, of course.

Jan. 13 2011 11:24 AM
Peter E. Engler from Berkeley Heights, N.J.

I suggest that we add a "D" for debate to the three R's in the El-Hi education system. All students are to participate in regular debatinging classes, starting in first grade. In the early grades the students may debate a topic such as "an oval ball makes a better toy than a round one" for half the class, and then be required to switch from pro to con and con to pro for the second half. I am hypothesizing that we might get into the habit of trying to understand different viewpoints.

Peter E. Engler

Jan. 13 2011 11:23 AM
Larry Siegel

Larry Siegel from Brooklyn
With Peyton Manning in military solitary confinement for seven months without trial, Guantanamo remaining open, American troops still killing and being killed in Afghanistan and Iraq without any weapons of mass destruction being found, etc; a truly sad atmosphere for a memorial service.

Jan. 13 2011 11:14 AM

Writing off what happened in AZ as the work of a crazy man is very problematic. Clinically, even "crazy" people can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. In fact it is often the interplay between their inner stimulation with their outer stimulation that will drive them. The vitriol and rhetoric spewed by either side does matter, and I think we will see that it did make a difference in Loughner's actions.

Jan. 13 2011 11:09 AM

when I heard your "assignment" on the radio this morning, I was stumped. So, I thought, let me read what others have written. And, barring a few comments on the welfare of children or love of money - most have not listed ways in which we are united.

I cannot think of a single way in which we are united. We are split down the very center literally in the country with the "blue" states on each coast and the "red" fly overs in the middle. We are split down the aisle, which at least one bright person mentioned some will not even cross to get work done. Those on the right are a nasty selfish bunch and they scare me. Those on the left are lame and ineffectual, and for that they scare me.

I am scared to death of what's happening in this country.

I think a war is coming.

Jan. 13 2011 11:01 AM
Jill Greenbaum from Manhattan

"I’ll start by saying liberal and conservative Americans dreams are bound together in wanting safe streets for our children."
Brian Lehrer

Here's a way that caring community members can help:

Jan. 13 2011 10:49 AM

What goals and values do liberals and conservatives share?

I think both value education and recognize it as a necessity in preparing for one's role in life and for participating in a democracy.

I wish both could agree on the importance of assuring that all have equal access to it. EQUAL is the important term there, because if access isn't equal, it isn't really access.

Jan. 13 2011 10:49 AM
john matthes

Its a breath of fresh air to hear a discussion about what unites us,instead of what divides us.Why does it always take a tragedy to bring this home.

Jan. 13 2011 10:48 AM
Sarah from Brooklyn

The need to be loved is universal. All of us who seek joy and solace in a life-long partnership aspire to living a "50 year honeymoon" like Dorothy and George Morris, both of whom were shot in the AZ shootings. All of us who love and want to be loved can appreciate the devastating loss that George now feels; he survived, and Dorothy died.

What if we begin and end our political conversations by discussing that which is most precious to us, and thus most deserving of respect?

Jan. 13 2011 10:45 AM
J from New York

The common ideal is not for example everyone having some basic resources so people can get by, that is a common desirable end. The ideal is how we accomplish that end and because there are divergent view as to how to reach that end there is no common ideal.

While the shooting in Arizona was a terrible event, it was the act of a crazy man. There was no true political origins of the shooting. Therefore to transform this event into a forum in which to throw around political rhetoric is disingenuous and dishonors the victims. To truly honor the victims they should simply be remembered and not transformed into political icons or the pillars of liberal or conservative ideals.

Likewise, while our political discourse should always be civil and informed, the events in Arizona should not be used as an opportunity to stifle that political discourse. Regardless, of Sarah Palin's website and President Obama calling his political opponents "enemies" and likening them to "terrorists", our political discourse has never been more vibrant. Therefore we should not let the acts of a crazy man that were not motivated by the current discourse be transformed into an opportunity to squash this country's healthy discourse. Coming together in the name of our "common goals" and "morality", inspiring and beautiful as it sounds, is simply the rhetoric of a liberal community organizer president using the current tragedy to try to ebb the current movement throughout the country towards self-reliance, autonomy and austerity.

Jan. 13 2011 10:45 AM

The problem with well-intended invitations like this---what do you think all Americans have in common?---is that they are never extended by the right wing, the Republicans. It is always the left or the center, and I think these already know what we have in common. I think the right wing/Republican side doesn't even think, or want to think, Americans have anything in common. And sorry to say so.

Jan. 13 2011 10:40 AM
stuart from ny,ny

We all want our children to know how to read and write, and be successful, and be free of fear that comes from ignorance, our own or others'..

Jan. 13 2011 10:37 AM
Stephanie from Jackson Heights

Everyone wants to improve their lives and the world. We just really, really disagree about the specifics. But I think in the end it comes down to love. If we understand that those who disagree with us love and care about their families and others just as much as we do, it makes it a lot easier to respect them as fellow human beings. Yes, there are those individuals out there who are motivated by fear and hatred, but they are the minority Loud yes, but the minority, and I believe it's important to NOT assume that if someone disagrees with you, even if they are disagreeing really loudly, that they are a part of that minority.

Jan. 13 2011 10:35 AM
Fafa from Harlem

INFORMATION IS KEY. The previous caller's story about the man who became aware of the problems with healthcare/ insurance through tragedy is an example. Most of our views are based in unawareness. We are quick to argue a "point of view" with insufficient knowledge of the facts. Somehow comprehensive information about the pressing issues of the day needs to be better integrated into our hectic lives.

Jan. 13 2011 10:33 AM
Laura from Brooklyn

Brian Lehrer's comment during this segment about watching that our conversation not descend to the likes of name-calling and further demonizing those we disagree with (by not asking if Fox news is evil or stupid, as Jon Stewart did) is well taken. But to invoke Jon Stewart as a culprit after his very moving monologue about the Tuscon shootings is truly unfortunate and seemingly ignorant of Stewart's MO. Stewart's remarks, in which he also asked that we not be divisive at this time, were more touching and profound than any I've heard on the subject of this whole tragedy, including those of Mr. Obama.

Jan. 13 2011 10:31 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

Both liberals and conservatives can agree that the average American ought to be able to finance their needs through fair compensation for honest work.

What's a good job ?

No borrowing needed; no second job required; yearly vacations; good education for the kids; healthcare.

Jan. 13 2011 10:31 AM
Rachel from Brooklyn

Perhaps it would be useful to remind ourselves of the size of our country and the size of or population. I find solace in the great number of us and the fact that this sort of thing is still shocking and horrifying. We DO have more in common than not; and we do a GREAT job not just for our size but despite our size.
This man is not all of us, he is himself but we helped him realize his moment of horror on Saturday by helping him procure a gun.

Jan. 13 2011 10:28 AM
Gianni Lovato from Chatham, NY

The background noises and roucous reactions, cheering and jeering, were almost as meaningful as the words of the President's speech in exemplifying how difficult the task of re-establishing common sense and civility to the political and social dialogue in America today .
Let us not waste the golden opportunity that this one too common tragedy offers us to regain our humanity and goodness.

Jan. 13 2011 10:27 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Love is Fleeting;
Hate is Forever.

The truth is, people love to hate.
We all want love,
but hatred is usually what we end up with.

Jan. 13 2011 10:26 AM
Eric K

This is cynical (and some of the comments posted so far justify the cynicism):

The reason why we our discourse lacks civility is because of the American perception of civics. We THINK we're partaking in democractic exercise and we're invested in country and in our future but what we really have is this: a society where the most impassioned people and the most involved people frequently the most ill-informed and the most vitriolic.

Why? Because in this country, despite what we tell ourselves about the stakes of democracy and the republic and socety, politics is essentially a hobby. The people who care most unfortunately look at politics as either a sport in which the other side MUST lose, or something like a role playing game.

This convoluted incongrous double standard - that politics and governance matter more than anything in society but it is treated like a game - leads to the excessive anger, vitriol, and lack of clarity in public discourse.

Jan. 13 2011 10:26 AM
Matt R from Brooklyn

Also, WASTE! Everyone thinks the government should spend our money wisely and not on crap we don't need. Corruption in a unifying evil.

Jan. 13 2011 10:24 AM
Libby from Harlem

I teach college and to get my students to recognize how much we depend on others I always ask them if they know who made anything in the classroom or on their person. All of course say "No." Then I remind them of the thousands of people from around the world that probably did - and why should we care about the well-being of those who make our lives possible? I love this moment of self awareness and the recognition of others in our global (not just national) community.

Jan. 13 2011 10:24 AM

My favorite quote about democracy is by Winston Churchill:
"Democracy is the worst form of government, but it is the best that we have tried."

Jan. 13 2011 10:23 AM
Gerard from Manhattan

Conservatives and liberals are bound together in the belief that capitalism is the best economic system so far conceived, even if we disagree on how much to regulate that system.

Jan. 13 2011 10:23 AM
Jeremy from Harlem

And let's have it start at the top. There was a time when no matter how rancorous the debate on the hill, the individual senators and representatives were famous friends (barring an occasional Charles Sumner episode). Now, they refuse to cross the aisle even outside work. A concerted effort on our leaders part to exhibit the kind of amity that is missing in our current climate will go a long way toward starting a national conversation.

Jan. 13 2011 10:23 AM
S.Ladhatt from New York

You can never really understand American values, and how we are united if you never leave America. Why not try living abroad for a year or two. I have done so, and learned a great deal about my own country from members of my host country. The real enlightenment came after. I formed true appreciations and balanced criticisms only
when I returned to a new strange place I call home.

Jan. 13 2011 10:23 AM
Matt R from Brooklyn

There are two that jump to mind:
1) We care for our children and their safety. We want them to be prepared for the world (although what this preparation entails differs based on ideology).
2) We care about baseball and football. Everyone loves sports and can agree that they're awesome to watch and play.

Jan. 13 2011 10:22 AM
zazel loven from NY, NY

Where was the Arizona governor during the President's speech?

Jan. 13 2011 10:22 AM
Jon Young from Staten Island

I'm sad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore.

Jan. 13 2011 10:21 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Everybody poops. Also, is easily taken in by warmed over pap and cheap political sentiments about "unity" for the umpteenth time ...

Jan. 13 2011 10:21 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Oh lawd, I'm so sick to death of that played out "preacher" cadence Obama uses in every speech he delivers - change it up, the novelty has worn off for chrissakes.

Jan. 13 2011 10:20 AM
We're united by Tragedy

We all suffer. We all grow old.
We all lose loved ones. We
all get hurt. We all bleed red.

Jan. 13 2011 10:19 AM
tom from astoria

It was a superb speech. A healing speech. I was curious how it would be covered by "the media", including ABC and THE TAKEAWAY." ABC Nightline was able to play only the weakest portions of the speech, and overshadow it with George W. Bush speeches around 9-11, and other speeches. They succeeeded in diminishing Obama's speech. THETAKEAWAY also diminished the speech with their coverage. Unfortunately, the partisan ship continuews.

Jan. 13 2011 10:16 AM
bernie from bklyn

sometimes finger pointing IS necessary. just as we don't have all the facts in this incident to point towards the moronic rhetoric of people like palin,angle etc, we also don't have the facts that prove that this guy WASN'T influenced and guided by this.
to just write this off as some random crazy guy w/ a gun is not prudent, in my opinion. crazy people are the ones who ARE influenced by dangerous speech, normal people can decipher but the insane can't.
but what we should all do, is to not necessarily finger point but IGNORE. ignore those that spew this garbage. msnbc,cnn,fox step up and be americans first.

Jan. 13 2011 10:15 AM
Xtina from E. Village

What Unites Us?


People are suffering in this country like not since the Depression. There is great hardship and misery out there, unemployment homelessness lack of health care foreclosures, etc etc. While Wall St bankers and CEO's have more than they could ever use There is a breaking point and we are starting to hit it.

Telling us to calm down and be civil to each other while we're dying, metaphorically and literally, isn't helpful.

Jan. 13 2011 10:10 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Give credit to Axelrod for a clever start to the 2012 campaign with Obama's first big raucous, cheering campaign gig disguised as a "memorial service".

Jan. 13 2011 10:09 AM

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