The Sovereign Mind

Free thought on politics and real life

A More Perfect Union?

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Like many Americans, I am very proud of what our nation was able to do on Tuesday. Even though I did not vote for him, I am aware that Obama’s election is a symbol of the great progress we have made toward a more equal society.

However, I worry that we may get carried away. Are we really “a more perfect union” than we were a few days ago? In Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, he eloquently reminded us that there is still much more work to be done:

This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.

I heard one caller to a radio show today suggest that we should do away with Affirmative Action because Obama proved it was unnecessary. While there are good arguments for doing away with or reforming that policy, clearly Obama’s anecdotal success isn’t one of them.

So I ask the question: how close are we? How much work is to be done? I think both conservatives and liberals can agree that our ideal should be equality of opportunity for all, although we can disagree on how to get there. Has Barack Obama’s election shown that we are close to that ideal?

I hate to be the voice of cynicism during this time of hope, but my answer to that question is “No”.

For one thing, Obama’s background is not that of a typical inner-city African American. Please understand that I don’t say this at all to diminish what he has accomplished as a black man. However, it is important to note that he did not rise up out of the slums. He was raised in Hawaii, by his white grandparents and mother, and attended the Panauhou school. I don’t know much about the school, but this article certainly couldn’t be mistaken for a school in down-town Detroit.

But even so, certainly Obama’s roots are more humble than recent presidents. Some argue that if Obama can become president, than anyone can be successful. I agree. Even from the humblest of roots, success can be attained if one is highly intelligent, willing to work hard, and maybe a little lucky. While those of us from more affluent backgrounds can be successful by merely being mediocre. While that is better than many other nations, it is far from the ideal of equality of opportunity.

The achievement gap between white and black students remains, and has not improved in recent years. The drop-out rate in inner-city schools is around 50%. Read the account of this LA school and tell me that those kids have equal opportunity as others. Sure, they can be successful, but the odds are highly stacked against them. Would Obama be president if he went to that school?

Some argue that this is the price we pay for a free society. People are free to make bad decisions which will end up depriving their children of opportunity. Pure free market advocates would argue that this is part of the fuel that makes the free market work: people want to work hard to give their kids a good future–to live in an area with good schools, and to send them to college. Otherwise they will see their kids’ opportunities diminish. Thus, the free market encourages hard work. However, even though I am a free market advocate, I see this as one of its fundamental flaws. It is fundamentally unfair that children should be punished for the bad decisions of their parents, and goes against our society ideal of equality of opportunity for all.

So, the way I see it, we may have overcome most of our prejudices that have kept certain groups down, but we still have difficult obstacles to overcome if we desire to strive toward equality of opportunity–the most important being the inequalities of education.

So, in all of the excitement, which I share, over the election of our nations first black president, let us not lose sight of the important work that remains to be done. Conservatives and liberals have differing ideas on how to solve this problem, and I look forward to debating it, not with political ideologies, but with the interests of our children in mind.

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Written by Mike

November 6, 2008 at 9:58 pm

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