“Ideas Need Legs” — Bill Moyers on Progressivism

Old Blog Import

Here is an excerpt from the acceptance speech given by Bill Moyers when he was presented with the America’s Future Lifetime Leadership Award” award at the Take Back America Conference in Washington DC:

What will it take to get back in the fight? Understanding the real interests and deep opinions of the American people is the first thing. And what are those? That a Social Security card is not a private portfolio statement but a membership ticket in a society where we all contribute to a common treasury so that none need face the indignities of poverty in old age without that help. That tax evasion is not a form of conserving investment capital but a brazen abandonment of responsibility to the country. That income inequality is not a sign of freedom-of-opportunity at work, because if it persists and grows, then unless you believe that some people are naturally born to ride and some to wear saddles, it’s a sign that opportunity is less than equal. That self-interest is a great motivator for production and progress, but is amoral unless contained within the framework of community. That the rich have the right to buy more cars than anyone else, more homes, vacations, gadgets and gizmos, but they do not have the right to buy more democracy than anyone else. That public services, when privatized, serve only those who can afford them and weaken the sense that we all rise and fall together as ?ꬢone nation, indivisible.” That concentration in the production of goods may sometimes be useful and efficient, but monopoly over the dissemination of ideas is evil. That prosperity requires good wages and benefits for workers. And that our nation can no more survive as half democracy and half oligarchy than it could survive ?ꬢhalf slave and half free” — and that keeping it from becoming all oligarchy is steady work — our work.

Ideas have power &#8211; as long as they are not frozen in doctrine. But ideas need legs. The eight-hour day, the minimum wage, the conservation of natural resources and the protection of our air, water, and land, women&#8217;s rights and civil rights, free trade unions, Social Security and a civil service based on merit &#8211; all these were launched as citizen&#8217;s movements and won the endorsement of the political class only after long struggles and in the face of bitter opposition and sneering attacks. It&#8217;s just a fact: Democracy doesn&#8217;t work without citizen activism and participation, starting at the community. Trickle down politics doesn&#8217;t work much better than trickle down economics. It&#8217;s also a fact that civilization happens because we don&#8217;t leave things to other people. What&#8217;s right and good doesn&#8217;t come naturally. You have to stand up and fight for it &#8211; as if the cause depends on you, because it does. Allow yourself that conceit &#8211; to believe that the flame of democracy will never go out as long as there&#8217;s one candle in your hand.  </blockquote> 

  You can download the PDF of the speech <a href="" onclick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'outbound-article', '', 'here']);" >here</a>.

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