Ladies and gentlemen. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Americans of all political persuasions.
Perhaps this speech will help me in my campaign to serve as your President for another four years, or perhaps not.
Either way, I believe it is important for me to tell it to you straight, from one citizen to another.
Tonight I want to speak to you, very frankly, about the central challenge facing our country in the coming years.
I am going to speak about a fear that every politician confronts every day but never gives voice to...
I am going to talk to you tonight about the fear that America, our great country, may be in decline.
My dear fellow Americans, it will come as no surprise for you to hear that we face immense obstacles in the way of our economic recovery.
What has come to be called the Great Recession, which began in 2008, took a terrible toll... In the winter of 2009 when I took office, as you will remember, over 750,000 people were losing their jobs each month.
Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the "Stimulus") we managed to stop the free fall, to give it a floor. We did this by a combination of tax cuts and also investments that led to some minimal job growth.
As you know we also passed a significant health care insurance reform bill in 2010, the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), aimed at helping the long-term health but also the financial stability of the citizens of this country as well.
Yet these measures weren't enough.
Joblessness continues at over 8% to this day. Housing prices have refused to bounce back -- and it has been six years from their peak in 2006. Gas prices are stubbornly rising, and, more recently, food prices have begun to climb too. Medical insurance rates still strain our finances, for businesses and individuals alike.
These are tough times...but I don't have to tell you that.
You know it far more viscerally than I do.
I believe that things may improve over the next four years. I believe in the policies put in place by my administration.
But despite my hopes for improvements, I am aware of the obstacles that remain. The pressures are too real for me to tell you, breezily, that conditions will improve dramatically. Other difficulties surely await us in the coming years and decades...
The truth is, my fellow Americans, we have to face it: we are looking at a long and, likely, unavoidable contraction of the personal wealth and expectations of citizens of the United States over the next century, any way you look at it.
Why is this happening?
Is this a Democratic failure?
A Republican conspiracy?
Let us go back and look at the big picture together. To do that we have to step outside of our familiar, short-term, partisan thinking and look all the way back to the last century.
After World War II, our big, beautiful, brazen country benefited from a massive industrial base, built up in the beginning of the century; an explosion in technology, much of it invented here; and most of all, cheap, available fossil fuels. Our obvious competitors in Europe and Asia, crushed and broken from both world wars, lagged behind us in their capacity to find new markets and develop new technologies. We stepped up, quite naturally, and the United States soon became a colossus, standing astride the world nearly unchallenged.
Only the statism of the Soviet Empire, at great cost to the lives of individuals, could compete with us on a global scale in economic, political and cultural power. And that monolith eventually collapsed -- in a series of events beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and ending with the Putsch in Russia in 1992. It became a victim of its own weight, its repression, the stagnation of its ideas, its inefficient centralized planning.
What happened in the 20 years since the collapse of the U.S.S.R.? Where are the blessings of our victory in the Cold War?
Why aren't we standing astride the world as before?
Well, in some sense we still are. No other country comes close to having our power and influence. But the world is catching up, as is evident to every one of us.
Workers and governments all around the world are building up middle classes in their own countries, in which their own management practices are meeting their own natural resources, in ways similar to ours.
Meanwhile our dependence on foreign oil left us more vulnerable to events in the Mideast and led us to overextend our military in multiple wars (with various justifications).
And perhaps most significantly, over the past 30-some years, U.S. companies (driven by the requirement, imposed by their shareholders, of ever-increasing annual growth) have exported jobs overseas.
The loyalty of the capitalist elite in this country to their own fellow-citizens has grown ever more... imaginary.
And the security of American workers -- both blue-collar and white-collar -- has become likewise more... imaginary.
All of this is to say that the quality of life we came to expect here in the United States in the late 20th century: solid public schools, solid infrastructure, cheap electricity, inexpensive in-state tuition at state colleges, retirement at 65 with Social Security and Medicare paying our bills while we play golf and visit grandkids and leaf through photo-albums during our "golden" years... it's no longer sustainable.
The dream-life of Americans in the last century, as accustomed as it became to us, was in fact just that, a dream.
It lasted a good 70 years or so. It was a wonderful boon for our country. It allowed for new social movements, civil rights, women's rights, massive change for the better in our ideas of ourselves and the world in which we live. But it was, nevertheless, an illusion to think that it would just go on like that forever.
The rest of the world, outside the First World, never knew this kind of comfort and self-satisfaction that we did. Most human beings around the world understand that our basic condition is one of want and insecurity. Each of us, however dignified and beautiful and kind and full of integrity and intelligent we are, adds, if truth be told, only a limited amount of value to others. Enough to be paid a small wage for a service or a product, that's all. (Even you George Clooney, even you Martha Stewart, even you, Larry Ellison, even you Meg Whitman -- though you have leveraged your value added, by way of modern technology, into something disproportionately lucrative.)
Certainly each of us does not contribute enough to maintain manicured lawns even in drought conditions, eat rare foods and drink fine wine, purchase second homes, enjoy unquestioned central heating in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer and endless entertainment... have two or three family cars in our garage... It was an astonishing era, my fellow citizens, for those of us in the middle and upper classes in the Western industrialized countries -- above all, for those of us living in America. It is ending.
For many Americans, it has already ended.
I do not say all this to depress you or discourage you. I say it because I want to have a candid conversation with you.
The fact is: we are not going back. We are going to be forced to reduce our expectations and our government expenditures, no matter what.
Defense spending must be cut.
Waste and redundancies must be eliminated.
Discretionary programs, things like PBS, Head Start, I would argue need not be cut -- should not be cut -- they are too small to make a difference anyway.
But there will still be the problem of the entitlement programs: namely, Social Security and Medicare.
Social Security is solvent for some 50 years -- so let's leave that one alone for now. We may have to address it later.
Medicare, though, is teetering on the edge. Everyone agrees: it isn't going to make it in the long term. The costs of care are too high. The elderly are living longer, and, moreover, the medical system has bizarre incentives in place, leading to unnecessary tests and expensive procedures instead of more common-sense preventive care and simple, family-centered, end-of-life care.
What can we do?
Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan have suggested that we could create a system of private vouchers -- instead of a single-payer system like the one we have today. That approach would probably lead to reduced benefits (one estimate is a reduction of about $6000 per recipient).
Some say: well, at least each individual could make his or her own choices about what medical care to pay for out of pocket when the vouchers run out... That's something isn't it?
I would answer: That may be something, but it is not an acceptable something. Making your own decision not to buy a chemotherapy drug, one that you know will help you live a year longer, because you don't want to face foreclosure before that year is out...? Because your child has Downs Syndrome and needs special resources so that your spouse can leave home to work? No, that future is clearly not acceptable.
Or we could spread the risk and insure the whole population. This would mean, in effect, that younger, healthier Americans would fund the health care of sicker Americans, particularly the elderly.
Such a change to Medicare -- altering it from an "earned benefit" to a tax -- would no doubt cause resentment, particularly in difficult economic times such as we face into the foreseeable future. Over time, would such a change delegitimize government in people's eyes? Would it foster even deeper cynicism than we have today?
GIven these difficult choices, I'll be honest with you, I am not sure what we should do. All I know is that hese are the difficult choices we face, together.
But I can tell you: I do know that we should not -- we cannot -- simply privatize Medicare and throw people back on the mercy of their own incomes or net worth.
I believe that equal access to health care should be something we ensure for one another -- as fellow Americans, as neighbors, as human beings.
In my role as President I find that the theme that confronts me on almost an hourly basis is fairness. I believe that we should be as fair as possible in deciding how to ensure that every American, rich or poor, has access to basic health care.
Here's the good news. We have entered an era in human history -- some 10,000 years after the advent of agriculture -- where we are finally learning to overlook the trivial ethnic or religious differences which have long driven us apart and made enemies of us.
Whether black or white or Latino or Asian or Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist or nontheist (the fastest-growing part of the population, by the way), gay or straight, young or old, Northern or Southern... we are all capable of abiding by the laws of a pluralistic, democratic state.
Let's do that. Let's agree to have our enemies be: disease, hunger, climate change, cruelty, war, cancer, accidents, bullying, betrayals, losses, depression, things like that. Not the old prejudices and fears and stereotypes and hatreds.
Our only chance of getting through this is that we get through this together.
Okay. That gives you an accurate picture of where I am coming from. I will work every day for the next four years, if you give me the honor of serving as your President again, to make this country as great as it possibly can be.
Who knows, perhaps with the aid of unforeseen technological break-throughs -- never underestimate the ingenuity of human beings, especially in this new age of cloud computing -- we will reverse the tide of America's decline.
Inexpensive, unlimited energy would be a start.
Certainly, as your President, I will do everything I can possibly do to lead us to a brighter future.
But at the very least we can be together in it, keep things fair, speak openly with one another along the way.
That may be all we have. It has to be enough. And I believe it is enough.
I will remind you: The greatness of the United States of America has never been measured by its wealth, but by its people.
We the people. One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Nothing about golf memberships in there. Nothing about luxury cars. We can do this.
Thank you and goodnight. I love you all.
[Waves goodbye to stunned crowd.]