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Peter Dreier

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"We Take Care Of Our Own" vs. "You're On Your Own"

Posted: 09/07/2012 8:50 am

At the end of his Charlotte speech Thursday night, President Obama told several moving stories about Americans who give him hope. And when he ended his address, the hall filled with the sound of Bruce Springsteen's song, "We Take Care of Our Own."

One can't imagine Romney or Ryan embracing those words. That idea -- "We Take Care of Our Own" -- is what distinguishes the Democrats' view of the world from the Republicans' philosophy: "You're On Your Own."

Obama said:

The young woman I met at a science fair who won national recognition for her biology research while living with her family at a homeless shelter, she gives me hope.


The auto worker who won the lottery after his plant almost closed, but kept coming to work every day, and bought flags for his whole town and one of the cars that he built to surprise his wife, he gives me hope.

The family business in Warroad, Minnesota that didn't lay off a single one of their 4,000 employees during this recession, even when their competitors shut down dozens of plants, even when it meant the owners gave up some perks and some pay, because they understood their biggest asset was the community and the workers who helped build that business, they give me hope.

I think about the young sailor I met at Walter Reed hospital, still recovering from a grenade attack that would cause him to have his leg amputated above the knee. Six months ago, we would watch him walk into a White House dinner honoring those who served in Iraq, tall and 20 pounds heavier, dashing in his uniform, with a big grin on his face; sturdy on his new leg. And I remember how a few months after that I would watch him on a bicycle, racing with his fellow wounded warriors on a sparkling spring day, inspiring other heroes who had just begun the hard path he had traveled. He gives me hope.


"At the very essence of our democracy," Obama said, is "the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations."

We believe that when a CEO pays his autoworkers enough to buy the cars that they build, the whole company does better.


We believe that when a family can no longer be tricked into signing a mortgage they can't afford, that family is protected, but so is the value of other people's homes, and so is the entire economy.

We believe the little girl who's offered an escape from poverty by a great teacher or a grant for college could become the next Steve Jobs, or the scientist who cures cancer, or the President of the United States, and it's in our power to give her that chance.

In his speech in Tampa last week, Paul Ryan told a story about how, after his father's death, his mother "got on a bus every weekday for years, and rode 40 miles each morning to Madison. She earned a new degree and learned new skills to start her small business.It wasn't just a new livelihood. It was a new life. And it transformed my Mom from a widow in grief to a small businesswoman whose happiness wasn't just in the past. Her work gave her hope. It made our family proud. And to this day, my Mom is my role model."

Ryan meant this as a celebration of his mother's lift-herself-by-her-own-bootstraps spirit.

But shouldn't someone remind Ryan that the bus was a public service, that the road was built and maintained by government, and that the University of Wisconsin in Madison is a public institution?

This is the Paul Ryan whose budget would slash funding for public education, roads, and public services that are the investments we need to lift people out of poverty and strengthen our economy.
Paul Ryan worships at the altar of novelist Ayn Rand, the philosopher of you're-on-your-own selfishness, whose books were required reading for his Congressional staffers.

Here, in contrast, is what Bruce Springsteen was singing over the loudspeaker in Charlotte after Obama finished his speech and was waving to the crowd:

I've been knockin' on the door that holds the throne

I've been lookin' for the map that leads me home
I've been stumblin' on good hearts turned to stone
The road of good intentions has gone dry as bone

We take care of our own
We take care of our own
Wherever this flag's flown
We take care of our own

From Chicago to New Orleans
From the muscle to the bone
From the shotgun shack to the Superdome
We yelled "help" but the cavalry stayed home
There ain't no-one hearing the bugle blown

We take care of our own
We take care of our own
Wherever this flag's flown
We take care of our own

Where the eyes, the eyes with the will to see
Where the hearts, that run over with mercy
Where's the love that has not forsaken me
Where's the work that set my hands, my soul free
Where's the spirit that'll reign, reign over me
Where's the promise, from sea to shining sea
Where's the promise, from sea to shining sea

Wherever this flag is flown
Wherever this flag is flown
Wherever this flag is flown
We take care of our own
We take care of our own

Peter Dreier is professor of politics at Occidental College. His book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, was published in July by Nation Books. Bruce Springsteen is one of the people profiled in the book.

 

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