Exploring Human Potential

Obama’s Goal: A Better America and Better Americans

Posted on | March 22, 2010 | 4 Comments

Mike Magee

Then Senator Obama, on the Senate floor in 2005 said, “We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom; the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African American, or gay, or disabled, or old.” (1)  He wasn’t talking about doctors or nurses, although he has, as I mentioned last week, spoken of the “empathy deficit'” in our US health care system. (2)  But this time he was speaking about requirements for nominee for Justice of the Supreme Court.

With the historic passage of a health reform bill on March 21, 2010, there was a sense by those on location in Washington, many of whom had witnessed the events in the 1960’s around civil rights led by another African American leader, that something more fundamental was happening. (3)  And they were right.

For President Obama’s eyes are set not simple on a different American health care system. No what he seeks is a better America and better Americans. And in pursuing these goals he is seeking from the professions – medicine, nursing, law, education, energy and environmental scientists and others – leaders who are full bodied, well trained, committed, and most of  all empathetic. In each of our individual sectors, he seeks voices that have not only mastered their own areas of expertise, but also the fact that their sector is intimately interwoven with all other sectors and with the fabric of society itself.

In this regard it’s worthwhile to consider the words of Washington Post’s Peter Slevin as he retraces the roots of President Obama’s legal philosophy and legal leadership in his May, 2009 piece.  “Six months after he was elected on a promise to change the country’s direction, Obama will be the first Democrat since 1994 to name a new justice. His choice will be informed by his conviction that the United States has become a meaner, less fair society and his belief that the court should play a ‘special role’ “, he reports. In the audio below, Slevin elaborates and correctly identifies the potential nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor:



“The court has to stand up,” our future President said, “if nobody else will…. (and support) a broader vision for what America should be.” His former law student, now law professor David Franklin,  described our President’s view this way, “He didn’t seem to really want to talk theory in the classes. He wanted to talk about what worked and what the real-world testing of those theories had yielded.” (1)

None should underestimate our President’s intent – it is not just about health coverage, or Supreme Court nominations, or carbon caps, or charter schools – it is about us. About who we are as Americans, what are our ideals, how will we care for each other, and whether we as a nation will reach our full potential. In this way, President Obama has now fully inherited the moral position of Martin Luther King, channeled it into his presidency, and will be using it to full advantage. His goal is not to reform. It is to transform.

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee.

1. Sleven P. Obama makes empathy a requirement for court. May 13, 2009. Washington Post.

2. Obama B. 148th Commencement Address. Northwestern University. June 22, 2006.

3. Pear R., Herszenhorn DM. Obama hails vote on health care as answering the “call of history”. NYT. March 22, 2010.


4 Responses to “Obama’s Goal: A Better America and Better Americans”

  1. Gracie Bonds Staples
    March 23rd, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

    Great piece. I couldn’t have said it better. And isn’t it about time we led with our hearts instead of our heads?

  2. gail hunt
    March 24th, 2010 @ 11:08 am

    Mike and all: I think this discussion gets to the crux of health care as a right or a privilege. For those of use who believe, with most of the developed world, that it is a right, the first steps are being taken with the new Healthcare Reform law. And, as it reflects social justice, the new law is overdue.

    And I’m also one of the people who will be hit up for more taxes.

  3. Mike Magee
    March 25th, 2010 @ 10:34 am

    Thanks, Gail, for your comments. You are right on the mark, identifying a large portion of the tension around rights vs. responsibility. Of course, this cuts to the core of America’s self-identity, her strength as a nation, as well as her weakness. Is it possible to have social justice and personal enterprise and innovation under one roof? Tension or not, aging demographics, consumerism, the Internet, globalization, and scientific and technologic advances have overtaken our century old approaches in health, education, environment, energy, transportation and more. For America to survive and thrive requires reinvention. Time will tell whether we are up to it.


  4. Lawrence
    July 26th, 2013 @ 10:27 am

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