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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Unity and Dr. King’s dream

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It has been a year since citizens yearning for a better future flooded the nation’s capital and gathered in their living rooms on a frigid January morning and watched as America fulfilled the dreams of a preacher from Montgomery, Ala.

Most of us remember where we were sitting, and who we were with, the day Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.

What some may forget is that his inauguration occurred just four days after Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 80-years-old.

Yet a year later, it is hard to escape the feeling that we are drifting from the sense of possibility and purpose that his election represented.

Public confidence in government has sunk to new lows. Partisan food fights have hijacked the national debate, widening the gulf between the left and right, the rich and poor, the haves and have-nots.

Dr. King once said, “The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve.”

He was talking about mustering the courage to end the war in Vietnam, but his words still ring true today as never-ending partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., hinders our ability to solve enormous national challenges.

The recent debate over health care reform will be remembered as a low point in our national discourse. We saw a worthy and noble goal—reducing the cost of health care coverage and providing better care for the sick in our society—become a stage for divisive political theater.

I voted “yes” on health care reform not because I thought the Senate produced a perfect bill but because the alternative was no progress at all. All of us found provisions in the health care bill that we did not like. But somewhere along the way, some forgot why we were having the debate in the first place. Too many Americans don’t have health insurance; too many more can’t afford the policy they have.

Dr. King said, “On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ And Vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But Conscience asks the question ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”

On health care, protecting our planet, creating jobs, fighting wars and fighting terrorists, the failure to live up to the full potential of our democracy is not the fault of one person or one party. It is a breakdown on the part of politicians, the media, and special interest groups who try to divide and conquer rather than collaborate and solve.

Many Hoosiers question whether we can achieve national consensus on the defining issues of our day.

The truth is, perfect agreement will never be found. Reasonable people can and will always disagree over the solutions to our problems. There is no easy answer to the question of how to revive our teetering economy or how to fix our broken health care system. What matters most is that we commit to working together in good faith, and embrace compromise and conciliation as vital to a successful system of self-government.

When confronted with some of our nation’s darkest hours, Dr. King spoke of his “abiding faith” in America. He saw past the hate that can plague our politics and recognized a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood that defines our national character. Though some of his dreams are not yet realized, the progress of the last 50 years is proof that his optimism was justified.

I share Dr. King’s faith in this country and will continue to be a voice of cooperation and progress in the United States Senate. I will continue my work to bridge the divide that separates too many Americans.

Only by working together can we can forge a better way forward. Only together can we rescue our economy, educate our children, care for our sick, defeat our enemies abroad, and solve the enormous challenges that lie ahead.

For as Dr. King said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Senator Evan Bayh was Indiana’s governor from 1989 to 1997 and is currently serving his second term in the United States Senate.

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