...he had seen that Americans have "the capacity," as he said that night, "to project the 'I' into the 'thou.'" To recognize that no matter what the color of our skin, no matter what faith we practice, no matter how much money we have – no matter whether we are sanitation workers or United States Senators – we all have a stake in one another, we are our brother's keeper, we are our sister's keeper, and "either we go up together, or we go down together."
This paragraph touches on something that's profoundly wrong with the politics of the reactionaries and ultra-capitalist libertarians on the far-right fringe who control so much of the political dialogue, especially in certain parts of the country, like Oklahoma. They believe in a politics of opting out, of "why should I pay taxes for X to help this other person with Y? It doesn't affect me." For example, "Why should my taxes go to help someone on welfare? Why don't they just go get a job?" Well, I don't know why "they," this mystery person who's sucking your money out of your pockets, doesn't go and "get a job," but I'll bet you that if "they" had a little help, they'd be more likely to do so, if they could. This is a politics that says, "I am an island. I control everything in my life, so you should control everything in your life, and leave me alone." The fact is that we're not islands, and the actions of one do affect the lives of many. If you pay taxes to help someone else through a difficult patch without a job, and that person is then able to get a job because of the help that your taxes provided, that person then becomes a productive member of society, helping to lift the economy for all of us. Even looking at it from a purely capitalist "self-interest" position, it makes a lot more economic sense to provide a safety net for people than to simply let people starve. The more we help the poor to succeed, the more they contribute to the economy, thereby creating more jobs, more opportunity, and more profit. Someone in the gutter with no way to get out doesn't do anything for the economy.
That's what Obama is saying here - we've all got to realize that we're a part of something greater, and that the politics of "I am an island" do not work.
Then of course, Obama got out his pen and wrote this in the "Great American Quote Book,"
You know, Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but that it bends toward justice. But what he also knew was that it doesn't bend on its own. It bends because each of us puts our hands on that arc and bends it in the direction of justice.
So on this day – of all days – let's each do our part to bend that arc.
Let's bend that arc toward justice.
Let's bend that arc toward opportunity.
Let's bend that arc toward prosperity for all.
And if we can do that and march together – as one nation, and one people – then we won't just be keeping faith with what Dr. King lived and died for, we'll be making real the words of Amos that he invoked so often, and "let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream."
Nicely done, sir.