President Biden quoted Daniel Webster in his Memorial Day address at Arlington National Cemetery.
Noting that when he became a Senator, his desk was right next to Webster’s, he said he felt the sweep of history. Webster’s full phrase in his 1830 speech on the Senate floor was “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!”
Biden’s address has been reduced by some in the media to the phrase “Democracy is in peril,” which he did use. His speech was in part a warning of the dangers of our time:
“The struggle for democracy is taking place around the world – democracy and autocracy. The struggle for decency, dignity, just simple decency.”
But the speech was also a heartfelt appeal to all of us to protect this precious gift we’ve been given as a country founded not on geography, or religion, but on an “idea.”
“This nation was built on an idea…the idea of liberty and opportunity for all. We’ve never fully realized that aspiration of our founders, but every generation has opened the door a little wider.”
Our democracy may be “imperfect,” he said, but it is still “the greatest experiment” in governing, and we need to do the work–protecting voting rights and freedom of the press, and more fully addressing racial inequities–to move it further along.
“Democracy is more than a form of government, it’s a way of being, a way of seeing the world. Democracy means the rule of the people.”
“Generation after generation of American heroes are signed up to be part of the fight because they understand the truth that lives in every American heart: that liberation, opportunity, justice are far more likely to come to pass in a democracy than in an autocracy.”
This is what the fallen service members being honored on Memorial Day had fought and died for. Their Commander in Chief was giving his warning that we must not to let their sacrifices be in vain.
And he was giving us his promise that he’ll lead us toward that more perfect union, but we must recognize our responsibility as a people to make it happen.