Imagine a great American politician giving the following speech. (If you can't think of any great American politicians, then you may substitute Martin Sheen.)
My fellow Americans, it is with great pride and true humility that I announce tonight my candidacy for the presidency of the United States of America.
I come before you, as every candidate does, with a set of issues and proposals. Over the course of the campaign, I'll talk with you about every topic that every candidate talks with you about, and you'll agree with some of what I say and disagree with some. But tonight I want to talk about the idea on which I stake my candidacy. It is a bold idea, but in these times, is anything less required of a candidate for the highest office of the greatest country in the world?
And that's exactly what this idea is about: we are the greatest country. The greatest economy. The greatest military. The greatest freedom. The greatest spirit. The Cold War has ended, leaving us with a remarkable opportunity that we have yet to seize. In other times on our planet when a single country amassed similar powers, that country has used its power selfishly. The Romans set out to conquer their world. The colonizing powers used their economic and military might to steal the resources and labor of the countries they'd subjugated. We Americans are a generous, peace-loving people. Never before in history - never - has such generosity of spirit combined with such overwhelming power and wealth. This gives us an opportunity unique in the story of woman and man on this planet.
So, here's what I propose. Let us set a goal as a people. An ambitious goal. One that will inspire our great American ingenuity. One that will call upon our unparalleled genius for invention and technology. One that will cause us to stretch our already open spirits. One that will challenge our nation's citizens, its businesses, and its leaders. Let us commit that for the next twenty years, America will bend every good effort to raise up the world.
We will raise the level of health, not just for our own people, but for every parent with a sick child or an ailing parent. Our goal is to bring health care to 90% of the world's population by 2021. We will discover how to eliminate AIDS and will make that cure available to everyone who suffers from that disease, for free if necessary. And we will bring clean water to 95% of the world.
We will raise the economic level, not just of our own people, but of every hard working mother and father trying to put food on the family table. Our goal is to raise the world's minimum annual income to the equivalent of $5,000. Our goal is to make sure that every child on the planet has at least one nourishing meal every day.
We will raise the educational level, not just of our own people, but of every person whose eyes are cast down. Our goal is to bring literacy to 90% of the world's population -- by the way, not just in their own language, but also in English as a second language if they choose.
We will raise the quality of the natural environment not just for our own people but for every person who breaths the earth's air, eats its fruit, or drinks its water. Our goal is, at the end of 20 years, to be confident that the world will sustain us and our children's children's children.
We will raise the standard of living, not just of our own people, but of every person sleeping in the dust and waking to misery. Our goal is to provide electrical power to every remote village. And, having done that, we will provide connectivity to the worldwide web of information and commerce.
These goals may seem impossible. In fact, I believe the goals I've suggested tonight aren't aggressive enough, for I believe we - you and I - are starting something tonight that will begin with our young people talking with one another about what they can do to raise up the world, communities acting to raise up a sister city, companies pledging to make the world a better place to do business ... and this will spread quickly to our allies, and finally, yes, even our enemies will join in.
But how will we achieve these goals? That is something that we Americans will debate and devise over the next few years, working with any other country that has the nobility of heart to join in. The helping hand we extend won't be holding cash. Rather, we will give of our ideas, our labor and our heart. What we are offering in every case will be to work *with* those countries that choose to grasp the hand we extend. We will only help in the ways they want, according to their own needs and traditions. And we will thus learn from them as well.
And how will we pay for this? My friends, when it comes to matters of historical importance, this country has always stepped forward...whether it was fighting fascism in World War II, rebuilding Europe with the Marshall Plan, or declaring war on terrorism on a global front. Our new cause - raising up the world - is no less grand and no less important. We Americans have always done what's right at moments like this: Put our hands over our hearts and pledge ourselves. Only then can we begin the great national dialogue among corporations, government agencies and, most important, each and every family about what we can do and how we can do it. Only with the commitment of our hearts can we begin the conversation to discover what's realistic. That is the mark of a great people as well as of great countries: their hope rediscovers what's truly possible. We must not let ourselves be held back by small-minded people who think their fear and timidity give them the right to limit our dreams. My friends, we will give those people hope as well. Becoming more than we thought possible: that's what every great goal does for us.
Why should we commit to these goals? Because we know they are right. They speak to the needs that cut across every ethnic and political division. These are human needs. We have the power to meet those needs. In so doing, we will build a more stable world. A world that is safer for everyone. A world in which there are more buyers, more makers, more sellers - the most vibrant sustainable economy in history. A world in which the fires of hatred are at last put out by a gift truly offered. A world in which we Americans bring up our children with a sense of the greatness that has been handed to them and the sense of duty and righteousness and generosity that we have always tried to instill against the forces of cynicism.
In fact, I'm suggesting that we call this the Generation Alpha project because I believe it will mark the beginning of a new generation of greatness for America and for the planet God has given us to share.
Why do this? Because this is what the greatest country in history would do.
September 27, 2001
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Discuss this speech
(Putting on my flame suite)
First, this is an experiment that tries to make this idea - that the wealthiest nation has a serious, continuing obligation to the rest of the world - as palatable to Americans as possible. That's why it's in the form of a speech with the usual calls to greatness. And that's also why the goals are purposefully vague and are not explicitly political (i.e., no attempt to spread democracy or promote freedom of religion); first let's say yes to raising the world, and then let's argue about how.
Second, yes, there is a whiff of cultural imperialism in this, but less than it may seem (I hope). No country would have to accept help. The form of the aid would be negotiated with the country; for example, if they think Western medicine is a crock, no one's going to force them to take the polio vaccine. And almost all of the goals are genuinely universal goals given the fact that humans have to eat, drink and breath the air. If a country finds implicit cultural values here and chooses not to accept our help, fine. Maybe it'll take ten years for Iraq to accept some aid, and maybe it will end up accepting help from Cuba in training village health workers. Fine and dandy.
Third, yes, teaching English as a second language is arrogant. But it would also be voluntary. And, I think, potentially of tremendous economic importance. If it's going to distract us, I withdraw the suggestion.
Fourth, am I serious about this? To the extent that I'd love to have a national dialogue about what we could do to help raise up the world: Absolutely. To the extent that I think this idea particular idea will be adopted: Nah, of course not.