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I thank Christine Pride, my editor, and the whole team at Hyperion for encouraging me to write a different book than I had in mind originally. It was their idea to make a modern electronic version of the hoary political pamphlet. Political pamphleteering can be traced as far back as the 1500s in England and France. Closer to home, Thomas Paine distilled and sharpened revolutionary sentiment with his pamphlet Common Sense in the run up to the American Revolution, and William Lloyd Garrison railed powerfully against slavery in his abolitionist tracts. These and other examples of long American political essays contributed to both the clarity and the urgency of their moment. I am flattered beyond measure that Christine believes I might make a similar contribution to ours.
Todd Shuster, my agent and friend, remains the most remarkable blend of idealism and pragmatism in publishing. In a deeply cynical business, he manages to be an effective advocate and businessman without yielding his conviction that words matter and can move people to do and be better. I thank him for his support and his friendship. Thanks also to Nick Chiles for being such a serious and sympathetic sounding board for both the ideas and the way I have tried to express them. Every struggling writer should have a critic who serves like a coach.
On this project and many others, I was blessed to have had the help and good counsel of Mark Edwards, Alex Goldstein, and Brendan Ryan. Each is wise beyond his years, and smarter than me. I thank them for sharing their consistent brilliance, and for their patience.
Whenever I get discouraged about the course of American politics or policy, I remember the countless numbers of total strangers who set aside what they were doing to take up my cause. It is humbling—and also it is the only way positive change has ever happened. This work is dedicated to the volunteers and supporters on my campaigns and on others' who, by choosing to "make it personal," change the world.
In 1966, not long before my tenth birthday, I joined the Cub Scouts. Joined incorrectly implies there was something voluntary about it. In reality, I had no choice; my mother commanded my participation in no uncertain terms. She looked for every opportunity to keep me out of harm's way because, in those days on Chicago's South Side, there was plenty of harm in the way. Race riots in Humboldt Park, civil rights dramas playing out across the South and in D.C., and simmering resentment over the persistent poverty all around us seemed to put everybody on edge. Even nine-year-olds could sense that those were tumultuous times. So my mother marched me down to the community room at the Cosmopolitan Community Church late one Saturday afternoon to join the local Cub Scout troop. There, in a high-ceilinged gymnasium with fading, whitewashed walls under fluorescent lighting that cast a yellow pall over everything, our motley crew drilled like miniature soldiers. We learned to stand at attention or at ease, to march in formation, and to answer orders with "Yes, sir" without appearing sullen. We had maybe two full uniforms among us.
We opened every meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. Every time we recited it, I got a lump in my throat. I was conscious of the anger and turmoil of the times—everybody was—though not all the reasons for it. And still, there we were, as solemn as if in church, earnestly committing ourselves to "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." We may have giggled at each other when we marched out of step or when somebody's growth spurt turned the dark blue uniform pants into "high waters," but when it came to the Pledge, everyone was serious.
Nearly fifty years later, the Pledge still makes my chest swell. Paeans to patriotism often do. That sense of national unity and common cause has inspired America and Americans to do extraordinary things. Last year, during commemorations of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, public speakers and private conversations alike proudly recalled how, as a country, we were infused with a sense of patriotic unity after the attacks. Back then, we seemed ready, even eager, to recommit ourselves to being one indivisible nation, "with liberty and justice for all."
Sadly, those feelings didn't last. It wasn't long before our political leaders were back in hot pursuit of divisive and partisan goals. Instead of building a lasting majority around American ideals, we squandered the moment in favor of politics as usual. This was our chance to recommit ourselves to the promise of equality, of opportunity, and of fair play for all. But instead we got entangled in ill-advised wars, turned a national budget surplus into an historic national debt, suspended some of our most treasured civil liberties, bought houses we couldn't afford, and ran up the balance on our credit cards. Just after the attacks, when we ached for inspired leadership, President George W. Bush asked nothing of the nation except to go back to the mall and shop.
Watching that happen was hard for me. I have lived the American Dream—that uniquely American opportunity to imagine and then build a better future—and am unabashedly proud of the national ideals on which it depends. I know firsthand how much hope and effort the Dream inspires, even in the unlikely corners of the country and of the world. Because faith in that Dream has been so important to my own good fortune, I yearn to see our ideals shape both the actions we choose to take as a nation and the debates we have about them.
After the presidential election in 2004, I couldn't shake the feeling of lost opportunity and the worry about the direction the country was headed in. So I decided to do something about it. I left my job as a senior executive at a large corporation and, at the age of forty-nine, with no electoral experience, no name recognition, and no campaign apparatus, set out to run for governor of Massachusetts. I got elected in 2006 and reelected in 2010.
I ran because I believe in generational responsibility, that old-fashioned notion that each of us in our time is supposed to do what we can to leave things better for those who come behind. Just as the service and sacrifice of earlier generations created the paths we now walk down, it will take our service and sacrifice today to make a better way for tomorrow. This is not the kind of leadership I saw in modern politics, or even in business, for that matter. I wanted to offer a different approach.
- On Sale
- May 8, 2012
- Page Count
- 38 pages
- Hachette Books