Well into its third century, the American experiment in democracy remains unfulfilled. Far from ready for export, American democracy is still a work in progress, inclusive and resilient in many respects, yet divisive and uncaring in others. The framers of our Constitution, having established a set of legal rights admired and modeled throughout the world since, neglected to also establish the economic rights essential towards securing a decent life for every member of our society.

At the beginning of a new millenium, American citizens find their security under threat. Islamic fundamentalism and rogue nations with nuclear ambitions are the obvious and external threats, but there are growing threats to our economic security as well. The threats of hunger, poverty, inadequate housing, inadequate health care, inadequate child care, inadequate education, and inadequate retirement security loom larger for an increasing number of Americans.

So long as exists any American whose security remains under threat, the promise of the American experiment in democracy is unfulfilled. True freedom will be realized only when citizens enjoy universal security, not just security promised militarily. Towards that end, citizens and government are each urged to adopt the following codes of obligation, equally vital to assure the universal security of every American:

The Obligation Of Government To Its Citizens:

To provide a genuine and lasting commitment to the universal security of its citizens not only through protection from external threats, but through protection from economic threats as well. Such threats include hunger, poverty, inadequate health care, inadequate child care, inadequate retirement security, and the threats to economic security resulting from persecution based on race, gender, orientation, or creed. True security, and therefore true freedom, must include all of these protections, and it is the obligation of a decent government to provide each and every one.

The Obligation Of Citizens To Society:

To rediscover in our national consciousness the idea of the common good, the understanding that the welfare and security of others directly concerns and relates to our own, and the idea of citizenship as having an obligation to give back to society as much as one receives, if not more.

While it is uncertain whether obliging government to provide for the universal security of its citizens will require more government, it is certain that such security cannot be provided by less. Freedom does not come from the reduction or absence of government. While our rights may be inalienable, they have always required some form of government to be realized and protected.

However, government will never give us more than we demand of it. Our freedoms, such as they are, have not been given to us freely. They have been demanded, and they have been wrested. We have not yet achieved the true freedom of universal security for all citizens because we have not yet demanded it, nor wrested it from our government.

That it is even necessary in a democracy to demand something that would benefit so many is ironic, given that government, in its purest sense, is the means through which every citizen - in spirit, if not in practice - looks after every other. In this manner, Americans themselves are failing to fulfill their own obligations as citizens. It is not inevitable that there are to be fellow Americans, a disproportionate number of them children, who hunger, who are ill-housed and ill-educated, and who are deprived from decent health care. Rather, it is the result of the unwitting consensus of the majority.

Our obligation as citizens is to take an interest in the troubles of others, for one day they may be our own. America is not a nation of individuals sharing little more than the happenstance of living in the same place. It is a nation of families, and neighborhoods, and communities, some of each whose troubles are increasingly being ignored.

What could bring us together is so much more than what separates us. Our common interests far outnumber our uncommon ones, and transcend the labels of political party that we are led to believe divide us. If we are to someday achieve true freedom through universal security, we must begin by discussing our common interests: our passion for our country, our respect for human life and dignity, our innate generosity, and our respect for the rule of law. After all, democracy begins in conversation, and ends in silence.

Sadly, this year democracy appears to have come to mean little more than choosing between two political parties each promising to provide us the greater military security. As citizens, it is our obligation to the common good to demand better. By establishing codes of obligation whereby government instead pursues universal security for its citizens, the American experiment in democracy can move closer towards fulfilling its promise.

Todd Huffman, M.D.
Eugene, Oregon