A New Era of Responsibility?
"Greatness is never a given. It must be earned." In his inaugural address, President Obama certainly was off to a great start. Obama spoke about ushering in a new era of responsibility--to ourselves, to our nation, to the world, to the environment. The address spoke to both soul and political consciousness. I have some thoughts on what his speech means for the fight for civil justice.
Below is video, courtesy of DailyKosTV (also available on YouTube):
Obama pledged to work toward restoring the people's confidence in our government. He said that it's time to get to work on this task with "bold and swift action" based on an exploration of the bigger, not the petty, questions. "Stale political arguments won't work," he states. The dialogue is no longer to be confined to questions of big vs. small government, but instead to questions about creating a government that works. It's not about dogmatically defending or attacking the free market, but about keeping a watchful eye on the market so that it does not "spin out of control" (as we've seen all too clearly recently).
Restoring people's faith and confidence in the government is one of the most central themes of the civil justice movement. Movement activists seek to do this by highlighting the civil justice system's value as an integral part of the democratic process, through illustrations of what happens when the system works well. But the movement is not about cheer leading--it's also about critique, by showing what goes wrong when the system is not allowed to function properly, when corporate interests infect the process and obstruct access to justice for ordinary people.
The sentiment from Obama's speech signals growing ideological skepticism toward the tired tort "reform" rhetoric that has been used to protect corporate interests and weaken our legal rights, safety, security, financial welfare, and health for so long. But this only means that the conversation is opening up to include the voices of real people--Ledbetter rode the train with Obama, after all--who've been affected by corporate influence on the civil justice system. It doesn't mean that those voices will be heeded. What's needed in addition to a diversity of voices is a willing mass of agitators ready to demand a stronger, more effective system for holding corporate power, and our government, accountable.
So it's okay to celebrate. It is, after all, an historic moment. But then we get back to work.