But there is another tradition that we share today. It calls upon us never to be indifferent toward despair. It commands us never to turn away from helplessness. It directs us never to ignore or to spurn those who suffer untended in a land that is bursting with abundance.
And this is not just our tradition--or the tradition of the Democratic Party--or even the tradition of the Nation. It is as old as the day it was first commanded: "Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, to thy needy, in thy land."(The "Mr. President" Johnson refers to is former President Harry S Truman who was at the ceremony, and who worked for years to advance Medicare, and why LBJ chose to sign Medicare into law in Independence, MO)
And just think, Mr. President, because of this document--and the long years of struggle which so many have put into creating it--in this town, and a thousand other towns like it, there are men and women in pain who will now find ease. There are those, alone in suffering who will now hear the sound of some approaching footsteps coming to help. There are those fearing the terrible darkness of despairing poverty--despite their long years of labor and expectation--who will now look up to see the light of hope and realization.
My mother-in-law, who hates President Obama, is in the hospital today, the happy beneficiary of Medicare, a government program she assumes as an accepted right as an American for those like her, who are over 65. Her husband is unhappy with her care at the hospital she is in, and is seeking to move her to another. He rightly worries more about the quality of her care, not the cost. And this is how it should be. But this was not what life was always like, before "Johnsoncare". Before 1965, 35% of all Americans over 65 had no medical insurance, and a stroke or heart attack or undiagnosed malady meant a choice, if they could find a doctor to help, of generational poverty (for themselves or their children) or suffering and death.
Again, from President Johnson's remarks:
No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years. No longer will young families see their own incomes, and their own hopes, eaten away simply because they are carrying out their deep moral obligations to their parents, and to their uncles, and their aunts.The change wrought by "Johnsoncare" / Medicare was not simply for those who were now covered. It had direct positive national economic impact and advanced racial integration.
And no longer will this Nation refuse the hand of justice to those who have given a lifetime of service and wisdom and labor to the progress of this progressive country.
In 1965, under the leadership of President Johnson, Congress created Medicare under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide health insurance to people age 65 and older, regardless of income or medical history. Before Medicare's creation, approximately 65% of those over 65 had health insurance, with coverage often unavailable or unaffordable to the rest, because older adults paid more than three times as much for health insurance as younger people. Medicare spurred the racial integration of thousands of waiting rooms, hospital floors, and physician practices by making payments to health care providers conditional on desegregation.History of Medicare, Wikipedia
President Johnson noted that FDR said on the signing the Social Security Act, that it was "a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but it is by no means complete."
We are continuing the work left to us by generations of progressive Americans. This is our legacy. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it (does) bend toward justice.'
Take heart, my sisters and brothers, in these times when progress seems to have so many well-funded and powerful foes, those who bully and lie, and who sometimes seem to have everything on their side. Look back at where we have come from: We have done much. We have bettered our nation, and moved yet again toward that more perfect union. And look forward now to justice: we still have more to do. This we do best, together.
Keep on, keepin' on.