Room at the table
From the inaugural address by the new governor of New York. A society as blessed as ours should be able to find room at the table, shelter for the homeless, work for the idle, care for the elderly and infirm, and hope for the destitute.
To demand less of our government or of ourselves would be to evade our proper responsibility. At the very least, the government of this generation should be able to do for those who follow at least what has been done for us. And if my election proves anything, it proves how very much this system has been able to do for us.
My parents came some 60 years ago from another part of this world, driven by deprivation, without funds, without education, without skills.
When my mother arrived at Ellis Island, she was alone and afraid. She carried little more than a suitcase and a piece of paper with the address of a laborer husband who had preceded her here looking for work. She passed through all the small indignities visited on immigrants everywhere always. She was subjected to the hurried condescension of those who decide if others are good enough to enter , or at least not bad enough to be kept out.
Like millions of others, my mother and father came here with very little more than a willingness to spend all their effort in honest toil. They asked only for the opportunity to work and for some protection in those moments when they would not be able to protect themselves.
Thanks to a government that was wise enough to help them without stifling them, and strong enough to provide with opportunities to earn their own bread, they survived. They remained a people of modest means.
But that they were able to build a family, and live in dignity, and see one of their children go from behind their little grocery store in South Jamaica where he was born to the highest seat in the greatest state, in the greatest nation. That by itself is an almost ineffably beautiful commentary on this magnificent system of American democracy.
But this is not a personal story. This is the story of all of us.
What our imperfect but peerless system of government has done for those two frightened immigrants from Europe, it has done for millions of others in different ways. That experience is a source of pride and gratitude, but it has to be much more. It must serve as a challenge to all of us, as we face the future. The achievements of our past impose upon us the obligation to do at least as much for those who come after us.
It would be a terrible desecration of our history to allow the difficulties of the moment, which pale when compared to those faced by our ancestors, to excuse our obligation to produce government that excels at doing what government is supposed to do. We need not fear the challenge. Underlying everything I believe about our government is an un-shakable conviction that it is good enough to do what must be done and more.
Through all of our present travail, and I know it well, the deficits, the hordes of homeless, unemployed and victimized, the loss of spirit and belief - for all of this, I believe that we are wise enough to address our deficits without taxing ourselves into bankruptcy, strong enough to reconcile order with justice, brave enough to bring opportunity and hope to those who have neither. We can, and we will, refuse to settle for just survival and certainly not just survival of the fittest.
I believe we can balance our lives and our society even as we balance our books. We can. To those who today stand on platforms built by their forebears' courage, remember who we are, and where we came from and what we have been taught.
Those who made our history taught us above all things the idea of family, mutuality, the sharing of benefits and burdens fairly for the good of all. There's an ideal essential to our success and no family that favored its strong children or that in the name of evenhandedness failed to help its vulnerable ones would be worthy of the name. And no state or nation that chooses to ignore its troubled regions and people, while watching others thrive, can call itself justified.