First, I'm an American, and damned proud of it. I'm also deeply grateful to this nation because I was born poor and this country gave me and millions upon millions of others the chance to live the American Dream. I'm also a devout believer in our fundamental national values of equality of liberty and opportunity and in the irrepressible American spirit. And I believe that each of us must be as vigilant and protective of the rights of equality and opportunity of our fellow Americans as we are of our own, and honor our obligations to our nation and future generations of Americans.
Nearly all of us have an ideal of what America ought to be. My ideal was shaped by elementary school teachers who taught us that George Washington didn't lie and took responsibility for his actions. An ideal framed in the classroom by portraits of presidents on the wall, looking down on us from their lofty perches in history. Biographies of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. And Benjamin Franklin. Stories about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Frank and Joe Hardy. An ideal shaped by Fourth of July parades in my small hometown of Rupert, Idaho. An ideal passed on by a high school teacher, Elizabeth Toolson, who made me believe, as did she, that a poor boy born in Texas and raised in Idaho could go to Harvard. At Harvard, Professors Oscar Handlin and Frank Freidel taught me how powerful ideas and working people built the country, and saved it more than a few times.
My ideal of America was also shaped by the Vietnam War, and by the protests against it. The struggle for civil rights and the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Apollo project and Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon. The OPEC oil crises and the Persian Gulf War. The stock market crash of 1987 and the greatest bull market in Wall Street history. Presidential impeachment and the collapse of the Soviet Union. More than thirty years in journalism have revealed the best and the worst of us, the base and the uplifting, the ordinary and the spectacular, the cruel and the truly good, including all that this country can accomplish and all that it is capable of becoming.
After the tragedy of September 11, the corporate corruption scandals, and now the war in Iraq, I cannot imagine most Americans are content to allow our elites to continue to further debase the ideals of our nation and determine our course into the future. Both of our major political parties have become little more than well- funded marketing organizations, advertising brands that the corporate and special- interest elites manage for their own benefits, with almost no regard for the common good and the national interest. We have much to overcome, and much to do. That's why I'm an in de pen dent and a populist. I no longer believe the Republican and Democratic parties are capable of serving the people: Their priorities and focus are the special interests and corporatists who fund them, and now direct them and the rest of us. The consent of the governed is the foundation of our government and its endurance over the past two hundred years. If the American people are to prevail against the challenges of the next two hundred years, we must end our apathetic and uninformed acquiescence to elitist unrepresentative governance and demand that our political leaders respectfully seek our consent rather than take for granted our submission.