Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing.
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.
We do not believe that freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss or a sudden illness or a home swept away in a terrible storm.
The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, do not sap our initiative. They strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great.
We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. We are also heirs to those who won the peace, and not just the war. Who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends. And we must carry those lessons into this time as well.
Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. Progress does not compel us to settle century’s long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.
We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.
We must act knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
The oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction.
You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas.