Some people who are enjoying our prosperity have forgotten what it’s for. But they diminish our triumph when they act as if wealth is an end in itself.
And there are those who have dropped their standards along the way, as if ethics were too heavy and slowed their rise to the top. There’s graft in city hall, and there’s greed on Wall Street. There’s influence peddling in Washington, and the small corruptions of everyday ambition.
But, you see, I believe public service is honorable. And every time I hear that someone has breached the public trust, it breaks my heart.
And I wonder sometimes if we’ve forgotten who we are. We’re the people who sundered a nation rather than allow a sin called slavery. And we’re the people who rose from the ghettos and the deserts.
And we weren’t saints, but we lived by standards. We celebrated the individual, but we weren’t self-centered. We were practical, but we didn’t live only for material things. We believed in getting ahead, but blind ambition wasn’t our way.
The fact is: Prosperity has a purpose. It’s to allow us to pursue “the better angels,” to give us time to think and grow. Prosperity with a purpose means taking your idealism and making it concrete by certain acts of goodness. It means helping a child from an unhappy home learn how to read, and I thank my wife, Barbara, for all her work in helping people to read, in all her work for literacy in this country. It means teaching troubled children through your presence that there is such a thing as reliable love. Some would say it’s soft and insufficiently tough to care about these things. But where is it written that we must act if we do not care, as if we are not moved?
Well, I am moved. I want a kinder and gentler nation.