Many politicians will say that the first responsibility of a President is to ensure the national security. I would note that the Preamble to the Constitution lists two other things BEFORE "provide for the common defense" -
"insure domestic tranquility"
But I will grant for sake of discussion that a government that cannot provide security for its people will not long have the support of that people.
It is in part because of that we have placed so much emphasis on our military, to the point where it is now out of proportion to the real military needs of our nation, and its cost thereby distorts other issues of real national security.
Recently someone here who I greatly respect challenged me to write about the broader issues of national security. This reflection is in response to that challenge.
Let me offer what responsibilities our government has to provide for the security of the nation.
And I will start with words from more than 3/4 of a century past.
On January 20.1937, Franklin Roosevelt gave his 2nd Inaugural Address, with the Great Depression still having a crushing impact upon many in this nation. Allow me to quote an important part of that address:
I see a great nation, upon a great continent, blessed with a great wealth of natural resources. Its hundred and thirty million people are at peace among themselves; they are making their country a good neighbor among the nations. I see a United States which can demonstrate that, under democratic methods of government, national wealth can be translated into a spreading volume of human comforts hitherto unknown, and the lowest standard of living can be raised far above the level of mere subsistence.Our economic situation may not now seem as dire as it did then, but for far too many of our citizens, want and fear still dominate their lives.
But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens—a substantial part of its whole population—who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life.
I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.
I see millions whose daily lives in city and on farm continue under conditions labeled indecent by a so-called polite society half a century ago.
I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.
I see millions lacking the means to buy the products of farm and factory and by their poverty denying work and productiveness to many other millions.
I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.
Earlier in that same speech FDR has noted
we must find practical controls over blind economic forces and blindly selfish men.That is still a problem of American society, and it is one that threatens real national security, for if people lose hope, if people feel abandoned by their government, the United States will cease to be a liberal democracy, and whatever may persist will no longer be what the Founders, for all their flaws and limits of vision, bequeathed us.In that same speech FDR said this:
We are beginning to abandon our tolerance of the abuse of power by those who betray for profit the elementary decencies of life.And he also said this:
In this process evil things formerly accepted will not be so easily condoned. Hard-headedness will not so easily excuse hardheartedness. We are moving toward an era of good feeling. But we realize that there can be no era of good feeling save among men of good will.
We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country's interest and concern; and we will never regard any faithful law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.Now let me offer my own reflections on the elements of national security.
It would include true economic security for all willing and able to work, and provisions for those unable through no fault of their own to obtain work - whether because of age, infirmity, or local economic dislocation. A society more concerned about protecting the wealth and power of the few while ignoring the basic economic needs of the many is not secure.
National security would include food security - we would not allow the domination of our food supply by a limited group of massive corporations. We would ensure that we did not so move towards monoculture that our food supply is at greater risk of blight and disease and pests.
We would provide food security for families and individuals. We would not cut nutrition support while continuing tax breaks for passive investors and wasteful expenditures on military systems.
We would guarantee comprehensive medical care for all - including dental, vision, hearing, and mental health. Absent addressing this, first among our children, we limit the potential of our people to live productive lives and contribute to our society not merely economically but also morally and socially.
We would protect fiercely the natural bounty of this land that has enabled our nation to thrive. WE would strictly regulate what gets discharged into the air we all breathe and the water upon which we depend for sustenance. We would act aggressively to prevent further damage to the ecosystems upon which the very life on this planet depends.
We would view education as a chance for our people to develop their gifts and their interests as they deem fit and not to prepare them merely to be consumers and cogs in an increasingly corporatized world.
Our national security is threatened when key parts of our infrastructure are owned by foreign entities whose sole interest is profits they will take out of our nation.
Our national security is threatened when supposedly American corporations can export jobs to nations with low wages and few environmental regulations thereby impoverishing our own while they destroy the world.
Our national security is under siege when super wealthy and corporate interests can control large portions of our political processes, distorting them for their private advantage at the expense of the rest of us and of the common good.
We need a national conversation.
We need many national conversations.
Perhaps after the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary we may begin to have one on the role of guns in American society.
What does America mean? What is it that we are attempting to secure? What role does each American play, what responsibilities do we have to each other?
I have in this reflection barely scratched the surface of the larger topic of national security.
But at least I am willing to have a discussion beyond the issue of how many weapons systems, the use of drones and enhanced interrogation methods.
What is this nation that we seek to keep secure?
Does not that question come first?
I return again to these words, all of them:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
All of the items of that social contract are interrelated - all must be remembered, all must be considered, not one at the expense of another.
Franklin Roosevelt challenged the nation at a time of major crisis, not only here but around the world.
The world is again, as it so often is, at a moment of crises - plural
There are to be sure economic crises
There are concerns about terrorist acts and unstable nation-states
We have a serious environmental crisis almost beyond our power to address
We will not solve those problems for our nation by acting unilaterally, for our economy is intertwined with those of other nations, and our environment is not in a bubble.
We will not solve those problems for ourselves no matter how wealthy we may be as individuals, if we ignore the rest of our fellows, regardless of race,religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, documented status.
True national security will be possible only when we are able to see ourselves as a nation including all of us, not merely as a place where we can demand rights but then ignore our responsibilities to one another.
The Signers of the Declaration made a solemn commitment, with words that were not idle. We should remember that commitment:
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
It was a pledge to each other, to a purpose beyond themselves as individuals.
If we are to continue as a nation, we need that kind of national commitment.
Franklin Roosevelt recognized this. Here are the five final paragraphs of that second Inaugural:
If I know aught of the will of our people, they will demand that these conditions of effective government shall be created and maintained. They will demand a nation uncorrupted by cancers of injustice and, therefore, strong among the nations in its example of the will to peace.Let me repeat one part of what I have just quoted: In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up, or else we all go down, as one people.
Today we reconsecrate our country to long-cherished ideals in a suddenly changed civilization. In every land there are always at work forces that drive men apart and forces that draw men together. In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up, or else we all go down, as one people.
To maintain a democracy of effort requires a vast amount of patience in dealing with differing methods, a vast amount of humility. But out of the confusion of many voices rises an understanding of dominant public need. Then political leadership can voice common ideals, and aid in their realization.
In taking again the oath of office as President of the United States, I assume the solemn obligation of leading the American people forward along the road over which they have chosen to advance.
While this duty rests upon me I shall do my utmost to speak their purpose and to do their will, seeking Divine guidance to help us each and every one to give light to them that sit in darkness and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
If we want true national security, we will remember those words, and demand those who seek to lead us politically and economically also remember, and abide by, the spirit of those words.
Absent that, we will have no national security, for we will cease to be a nation, and become nothing more than a collection of disparate economic entities which value others only so far as we can see profit from them.
Then we will again approach what Hobbes described as the state of nature, a war of every man against every other man, and the life of man: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short