The “Cure” for the “Sickness of the National Spirit”

“Let us remember there is no conservative or liberal remedy for the sickness of the national spirit. The cure will come from honest, truthful leadership that summons the best in us.”
Sargent Shriver |Washington, DC | September 20, 1975

Our Quote of the Week suggests that we will not thrive as a society if we support leaders who favor partisanship over problem-solving. We need clear-eyed, honest leaders who believe in the potential we all have to summon, in the words of Lincoln, “the better angels of our nature”.

In 1975, Sargent Shriver entered the Democratic Primary and spoke these words in his Announcement of Candidacy for President of the United States. Although Shriver did not go on to be the Democratic Presidential candidate – Jimmy Carter would win the Primary – there are many insights to be learned from his campaign, which officially began with this speech.

In his remarks, Sargent Shriver spoke about the “crisis of confidence” that Americans were dealing with at the time. The United States was still recovering from the Watergate scandal and the subsequent resignation of President Richard Nixon. At the same time, the country was dealing with a recession, out-of-control inflation, high unemployment, and growing income inequality. With the country under such intense pressure, Shriver presented a way forward that was positive, pragmatic, and forward-thinking.

Shriver speaks of policies that are grounded in values that preserve human dignity:

“To the millions of families who see their children fail and their neighborhoods collapse, the meaning of this philosophy is reunion — reunion with the most basic sources of our national strength. Anti-neighborhood practices like redlining and block busting must be reversed. Anti-family practices like forced separation of parents on welfare must be ended. Discrimination against working women must be stopped. And, we need flexible work schedules to permit parents, fathers and mothers both, to care for their children. Finally, we must find ways to redesign our housing, tax, and other policies to allow families to live together, rather than in generational ghettos. I do not pretend to have all the answers. But we can find answers together only if we are guided by some vision of where we want to go; it is a vision of freedom, of fairness, and fulfilling work that shapes the policies I favor.”

Shriver also states that to tackle society’s biggest challenges, we must transcend the “-isms” that limit and divide us and employ the values that bind us together as a human family. It is only by focusing on our “common existence” that we can create policies that tackle the problems that threaten us both domestically and internationally.

“Mankind has entered a new era. Our philosophic, religious and political beliefs can still provide the framework for our activity in the years ahead. But the problems we now face are different in nature, not just in size, from those we faced before. They will not respond to the old shibboleths and nostrums. Nationalism, jingoism, great power chauvinism, individualism, old-fashioned liberalism, populism, conservatism — none of these alone is sufficient for the future. Instead we must seek a common existence, rooted in our common humanity, which faces worldwide problems requiring common solutions. And, the first place where we must bring our common efforts to bear on our common human problems is here at home.”

Let us heed Sargent Shriver’s call to seek leaders who nurture our common humanity, who have a “vision of where we want to go ... a vision of freedom, of fairness, and fulfilling work” for all of us. By doing this, may we create a virtuous cycle that leads to a more just and equitable society.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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