The Democratic National Convention beginning July 26 will formally introduce the Kerry-Edwards ticket to America, and many voters will see and hear John Kerry at length for the first time, when he makes his acceptance speech on July 29. Many---perhaps a majority---of voters have serious doubts about GW Bush. Some will probably make up their minds about John Kerry, or at least decide to consider him, based on the images of convention week, and the Speech.
There are hundreds of people now at work to make the best use of the scant three total hours of prime time the television networks will grant the convention, since the most important decision in recent American history can't hold a candle to the profits to be made on bread of commercials and circuses of humiliation. There are probably a few score making contributions to the Speech. Our opinions of course are unsolicited. But here they are anyway.
Our core idea, which we've had for at least a year, happens to dovetail nicely with everything the Kerry people have made public so far, including the convention's slogan of "strength at home, respect in the world." For his speech, Kerry will be introduced by former Senator Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam, and who was accused by the Bushies of being unpatriotic with such savagery that Teresa Heinz Kerry, a Republican who had been married to a Republican Senator, changed her registration. Kerry will likely be surrounded by his band of brothers from Vietnam. His wife will have already spoken about growing up under a dictatorship.
In our fantasy, in our plan, Kerry would begin his speech talking about 9-11. He would mention the shock, the anger at being attacked, and the feelings of vulnerability felt by Americans in a new way. But he would also mention the heroism of firefighters and others, and the spontaneous acts of kindness, initiative, responsibility and civic virtue that followed: the kind of American spirit that can still be tapped.
He would speak about the need to protect America, of the new expression in American life: homeland security, and the power of those words. The homeland. Security. In its broadest sense, homeland security is the first responsibility of government, especially the federal government: to protect all its citizens, to protect the homeland.
But there are right ways and wrong ways to ensure homeland security. He would talk about the bad choices made by the Bush administration: bad for America, ineffective in securing the homeland, and at their worst, choices that have made the homeland less safe.
Then he would speak about securing the homeland against terrorist threats, not by subverting civil liberties, or by sowing needless fear and confusion, but by giving local government, law enforcement and emergency workers the information, the guidance, the tools and the support they need. By bringing together the resources and the resourcefulness of the homeland in its own defense. Protecting our vulnerable installations and industries, our ports and facilities, instead of creating new bureaucracies and pouring tax dollars into dubious high tech projects that enrich big corporations. Not by excessive secrecy or sowing mistrust, but by keeping Americans informed of these efforts, and asking their help in specific and meaningful ways: by helping to design ways to watch vulnerable installations, for example; not by watching each other.
He would speak about the proper role of the military, about the mistakes in Afghanistan and the tragic mistakes of Iraq. The war on terror won't be won by grandiloquent and simplistic rhetoric, but by careful groundwork and courageous action, and by understanding the points of view of other cultures, the human needs and aspirations of the many, instead of just the violent intentions of the few.
In this global society, the homeland can only be secure when we value our friends, when we work together. American leadership depends on the respect others have, not just for our economic and military power, but for our integrity, generosity and moral leadership.
But homeland security means much more than protecting against attacks from outside, or threats to our place in the world. Doesn't homeland security mean cities and states able to meet the needs of their citizens? Aren't health care, the safety of food and water, workplace safety, all part of homeland security? Aren't Americans more secure when they can make a decent living, send their children to decent schools? When the cities and states aren't cutting to the bone, and everyone competing for scarce resources while the federal government sends tax money to a few favored corporations in Iraq? Put aside the question of whether Saddam was evil or democracy in Iraq is a good thing. The federal budget is the index of priorities. Where is that money going?
Isn't the homeland more secure when its government protects it from real dangers, and doesn't spend its blood and treasure on false pretenses, committing resources well into the future that we will need to protect us from real threats?
Isn't the homeland more secure when it takes steps to protect itself and the rest of the world from the effects of climate change? When it faces the reality of the end of the oil age and the dangers of dependence on foreign oil, by committing to a renewable energy future and a sustainable energy economy? When it protects its natural resources and natural legacy? When it builds respectful relations with other nations, and helps to build strong international institutions to lessen the threat of war and terrorism? When it reinforces democracy and democratic institutions at home?
Our homeland can only be secure when our economic house is in order. When food and water are safe, when the workplace is safe. Our homeland can only be secure when the homes of our citizens are secure: when they can make a decent living, send their children to decent schools, and when they are safe against being suddenly ruined by health care costs, or not receiving the care they need.
How does health care fit in?
We drop out of the outline of our fantasy speech to zero in on one section of it: on health care. Kerry has made health care a major element of his domestic agenda: to institutionalize the principle of health care as a right, which is where it all has to start, and to institute a health care insurance system which provides quality health care for just about every American.
So of course, a healthy nation is part of a secure homeland. We are secure in the knowledge that we will get the care we need without bankrupting our families and torturing our friends. But to explain this, Kerry must go beyond the abstracts, go beyond the statistics of nearly 44 million uninsured, or the 18,000 Americans who die each year because they don't get care, and they don't get it because they---because we-- have no insurance. He must go beyond even just giving examples of health care horrors, like the "Italian-American man in his early 50s" Katha Pollitt describes in her Nation column (or rather quotes the description of a doctor at Yale-New Haven Hospital), who went $250,000 in debt caring for his wife until she died, then couldn't afford his own care. When the doctor told him he might die if he wasn't treated, he replied, "Doc, maybe that's for the better."
Pollitt asks why there is no "big, irate, energetic movement" for universal health care? She offers a few possibilities, but there is one more: nobody with the public’s attention is talking about it in ways that move and motivate. There are certain words they should be using, and using over and over. One of those words is "suffering." Kerry, or someone, has to say it clearly and repeatedly: not how people are "adversely affected" or "impacted" by health care costs and not having health insurance, but how they suffer. How they suffer when they are denied the right medicine, or don't even seek treatment they know they can't afford. How they suffer pain, how their families suffer watching them in pain and in causing themselves pain in trying to care for them. How a child suffers when a parent loses a job because of untreated sickness, how families suffer when they lose their homes. Let's stop talking about being simultaneously very sick, very poor, unable to care for those you love, homeless and alone, as problems, as if they are temporary inconveniences. This is suffering, persistent suffering that multiplies and feeds on itself and spreads in a widening trough of suffering. It is suffering that no Christian, no moral person, and above all, no American should tolerate, especially when it is needless, when the resources exist to end this suffer without causing anything close to pain for taxpayers or consumers or, as they used to be called, fellow citizens and fellow human beings.
So the security of the homeland is strengthened not only when the people are healthy, but when people are not suffering needlessly and alone, when they know that their fellow citizens and their government will do their best to help heal them. Individuals are stronger, families are stronger, the American society is stronger, the homeland is stronger.
The speech would wind up with the kind of statements Kerry has been making over the past 7 months or so: about reclaiming a brighter future in which science and technology serve the common interest, in which idealism of service can help America improve the homeland and secure its future. About reclaiming America's future and its soul. He can end it as he likes to end his stump speech, with the Langston Hughes poem. For instance, the lines:
"Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed---
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above."
"O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe."
"O, let America be America again---
The land that never has been yet---And yet must be."
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