Before Barack said
Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen
with an intonation pattern that was a little confusing given his likely intent, he said this:
Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.
It is good to see that discussion of what Barack said has gone beyond “gotcha” to a discussion of deeper philosophical issues. Even Rush Limbaugh has turned philosopher, discussing the underlying issues that Barack raises. (Here is my review.)
I am moved by the statement
Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have.
Leaving aside the rest of Barack’s speech, there is an important message in this. Those of us alive now didn’t build this unbelievable American system from scratch. Those who have gone before us have handed down to us something precious. I think the right response to that gift is gratitude, a determination to do our part to preserve the wondrous aspects of that system, and a desire to share the benefits of this unbelievable American system with others.
When I say “share the benefits of this unbelievable American system with others,” I mean what I say. And it is something that far transcends the importance of our current debates about taxing and spending policy. It is churlish of us to shut others out from the benefits of this unbelievable American system. The framers of our Constitution and the others who did the most to put together this unbelievable American system had an open attitude toward immigration. And we know that as late as 1883, these words were engraved on a bronze plaque on the Statue of Liberty, where they can still be seen to this day:
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Emma Lazarus, 1883
This is my policy on immigration, as I think it should be the policy of the United States Government and the policy of the People of the United States. We didn’t build this unbelievable American system, and it is not our private property. We don’t have a moral right to exclude other human beings—human beings like us—from the benefits of this unbelievable American system. As stewards of this unbelievable American system, we need to regulate the pace of arrival so that the system itself is not overwhelmed and destroyed, but unless this unbelievable American system itself is threatened, let us open our doors wide to others who have not had the good fortune to be born Americans.