JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Can we obtain a 'perfect Union'?
Perfection is hard to come by. Can we achieve it?
Ever since I wrote my column about the preamble to the Constitution, I have been wondering about the line that says, "in Order to form a more perfect Union." I said, "I always felt this was the best part of the constitution because it suggests that our work is not over and much remains to be done." It made me wonder about our progress in creating a more perfect union. How are we doing?
To me "perfect" means just what it implies, "perfect" without flaws. It's the highest level of achievement. Perfection is not unrealistic. There are plenty of examples of how an individual or a group of people (e.g. a nation) set out to achieve perfection and then went ahead and did it.
Polio was very common in the United States; 60 years ago, it paralyzed and killed up to half a million people every year. Since the polio vaccine was introduced in 1955, polio has been eliminated from the United States thanks to Jonas Salk's widespread polio vaccination in this country. This is what it means to create a more perfect union. Since 1979, no cases of polio have originated in the United States.
The goal of our space program in the 1960s was to land on the moon. It wasn't just to go halfway and then turn around. Our goal was to land on the moon and then turn around and return to Earth. Perfection was achieved in 1969.
Our goal is to provide health insurance for all Americans, not just most. We want 100 percent of Americans to be insured. Currently, about 15 percent of Americans do not have health insurance. That is down from 22 percent 11 months ago. Many countries have 100 percent coverage. The U.S. is still lagging behind but we are doing better. We will eventually get there despite the bickering in Congress.
Former President Jimmy Carter announced in 2015 that the ancient scourge of Guinea worm disease is on the verge of eradication worldwide. Just 126 cases of GWD were reported in 2014, down from more than 3.5 million in 1986 when the Carter Center first spearheaded an international effort to eradicate the waterborne parasite. Guinea worm disease will become the second human disease in history, after smallpox, to be eradicated. Amazing!
If you have a household of two adults and two children and make less than $24,000 a year, you are considered to live in poverty. About 14 percent of Americans live in poverty. This varies among ethnic groups. Our goal is to eliminate poverty. We are getting better but no one who lives in the richest country in the world should live in poverty.
The mindset of creating a more perfect union began when the American colonies defeated the most powerful nation in the world — England. From that moment on we were obsessed with always doing our best. Our education system helped perpetuate that notion.
It was Thomas Jefferson who suggested that tax dollars be provided for education. Thomas Mann helped push the first compulsory school laws in 1852 in Massachusetts. New York followed the next year, and by 1918, all American children were required to attend at least elementary school. Our goal was 100 percent minimum education for every child. That was very ambitious but we did it. It was in our schools where our children learned about success and achievement.
The goal of most nations is to live in a world where peace prevails. We are a long way from it but we continue to put forth the effort because we know we cannot survive without world peace. Now we just have to convince everyone to have the same goal.
Tolstoy said, "If you look for perfection, you will never be content." He's right, but isn't it better to err on the side of trying to achieve perfection rather than not trying, which would result in not serving people well?
We are not going to achieve perfection in everything we do nor should an individual expect to be perfect. However, it is important to try. We want our children to strive to get "A's." We want our athletic teams to go for the gold. We want our businesses to succeed, to achieve, to thrive.
In one of my favorite quotes from the Civil War movie "Shenandoah," where Jimmy Stewart has set out with his sons and daughters to find his youngest son who was taken captive by the Union Army. After weeks of searching with no luck, he explains to his children why he went out to look for him knowing the chances were not good. He said, "If we don't try, we don't do and if we don't do, then what are we here for?"
Our founding fathers were right in motivating us to try to achieve a more perfect Union. If we don't try, then what are we here for?
Riddle: Two wrongs don't make a right. But what do two rights make? A plane (Orville and Wilbur WRIGHT)! We can learn from the Wright brothers about pursuing perfection. Had they not, they never would have gotten off the ground.