This I Believe

Harry - New York, New York
Entered on August 30, 2007

How About the Common Good?

In times past, one often heard talk of the “Common Good,” the understanding that major political decisions in the end would be directed to that which would help most of the citizenry. FDR was thinking of the Common Good when, in the midst of an ugly Depression, he introduced the Social Security Bill to provide help to a hurting nation. We today like to think that our advanced society is now even more able to make progress in that direction. We see ourselves as bringing more fairness, more justice, more compassion than in times past. But maybe we are simply fooling ourselves. Let’s take a good look at what has been happening before our eyes.

We watched more families sliding into bankruptcy, and then let the lending corporations tighten the bankruptcy laws even further.

We watched families sacrifice their sons and daughters in Iraq, while we let construction companies reap inordinate rewards, some tax-free, from secret no-bid contracts.

We watched the growth of tax loopholes benefit those who can afford tax specialists, and allow those less off to follow the cold letter of the tax laws, with little consideration for any special needs.

We watched 30-40% of our high school students drop out in some of our major cities, while we continue to speak of “No Child Left Behind.”

We watched some CEO’s quietly increase their compensation until it is in some cases now reaching 400 times that of a line worker.

We watched more than 40 million families do without health insurance because it would constitute “socialized medicine,” but we see Congress receiving the coverage without an outcry or even a whimper.

We watch families today lose their homes through “sub-prime” loan foreclosures, but hold no brokers or lenders accountable for what “professionals” knew were foreseeable disasters.

We watch the long-suffering citizens of New Orleans struggle, while we still debate how deserving they are of lasting help.

We watch our seniors and retirees lose their pensions and health insurance because of corporate action that failed to protect them, and we look the other way.

And, finally, we see these problems, and we read about them every day, but we are told that we cannot, we dare not tackle them frontally, because it might constitute “class warfare.”

When Lincoln talked about government “by, of and for the people,” he was talking about the Common Good. But the Common Good comes about only when we deny some individual aggrandizement for the benefit of others. It comes about when we do not sanction legislation which responds to the pressure of a lobbying force, a force which far outnumbers the elected legislators and is armed with enormous financial resources. That force can promise much to legislators. Money can often carry the day. So now we give every indication that many of us worship at the Altar of Greed. Greed is king, and Greed can be blinding. History continues to whisper to us that, “Without vision, a people may perish.”

It is time for us as a society to wake up. We will become the kind of society we want only if we demand it, and it will not come easily. It will come only if we begin to concern ourselves with the Common Good.

Harry P. Kent

Saratoga Springs, NY