It was striking to listen to the President and Sonia Sotomayor today. Listen to her story, and think of his. The parallels are striking. Early "modest circumstances", early loss of a father, strong women supporting them (for Obama his mother intellectually and his grandmother in other ways, for Sotomayor her mom), and the power of - the huge, profound belief in -- the power of education to change a life. It is becoming a mantra of this administration - the President's speeches and appearances with young people, certainly those of Michelle, and, we see today, of his choice for Supreme Court nominee. I was liveblogging with Kim Pearson at BlogHer and wrote that I believe Obama is "retuning the American sensibility." By "retuning" I mean returning us, like a tuner with a piano, back to the standards that sustained us for so long.
My father made it impossible not to understand the value of education. His father came here from Eastern Europe with nothing and my dad, with the help of several scholarships and three jobs at a time, graduated from Harvard and Harvard Law School. He told me once we probably wouldn't inherit much - that "your education is your inheritance." And so it was.
For much of the past couple of decades though, that belief has been blunted - by the tech revolution (even though much of it was produced by immigrants who also built a life here) and the greedy 80's, by the growing gap between the wealthy and even the middle class, and by what has felt to many like disproportionate power in the hands of business. It has just looked harder to get from those humble beginnings. Our values were so much more about money: the sports stars and rock stars and the Donald Trumps of the world than education and service and personal responsibility.
Of course, the barriers are still devastating for many. How does a child entering preschool with a 500 word vocabulary keep up with one entering with 15,000 words? Research tells us that's often the difference between kids from well-to-do versus economically challenging households at preschool age. There is a wealth of work to do to make it possible for us all to truly start out on a level playing field.
Even so, it's exciting to think about what happened today because the central players have "walked the walk" within their own communities and beyond, managing challenges in race, gender, ethnicity and class. No matter how the nomination turns out, it's a reminder of what we want to - and often do believe about our country: that those dreams are still possible, that the stories with which many of us grew up are still true. It's up to all of us to make sure that we continue to return to these beliefs, and where they are not yet true, work to make them so.