Elias S. Cohen is a legendary figure in the history of our culture’s struggle to understand the importance of self-determination for all people.
He reflects on the past the, the present and our shared future and offers us the insights of a true Elder.
In November two of my four grandchildren will vote for President of the U.S. and members of Congress for the first time. And I, and some of my friends and relatives may cast our votes for the last time. As Dr. Samuel Johnson said, “Depend on it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
Voting in what Ithink may well be my last election certainly concentrates my mind. It feels. like making out a will—what is the bounty I leave to my grandchildren? For me, my vote will shape my legacy, the kind of country I want to leave to my grandchildren.
I want to leave them a country that is not governed by ideologues and theologically based ideas, but rather by those who believe in civil rights, self-determination, respect for the widest range of belief systems, ethical principles, and evolving Constitutional law in this nation of immigrants and native born, drawn from the races and ethnic groups from around the world.
I want my vote to re-establish credible and even inspiring leadership from the Office of the President as a hallmark of the most powerful position in the world. I want my grandchildren to look to the President with pride in his commitment to science and knowledge, ethical precepts, and the spirit of the law that has served us so well in the past.
I want my grandchildren to live in a country whose national treasure and national conscience is devoted to preserving our countryside, our environment, and our rich variety of communities, services, and utilities. I want them to live in a country that does not squander our natural and economic resources and our unique American spirit on destructive wars, present and future.
I want to leave my grandchildren a country whose government is at its best when it strikes poverty, disease, homelessness, unemployment and despair rater than a government that believes it should get out of the way of rampant and wanton economic exploitation of our markets, our environment, and the consuming public—an irrational belief in the magical hand of a free and unfettered market.
And I want my grandchildren, when they to travel the world to know that they are representatives of a country viewed as a champion of human rights, equality, and opportunity rather than a country whose government’s blunders devastate countries, killing tens of thousands of civilians and causing the emigration of thousands from their homes.
I want them to inherit a country whose leaders eschew “wars of choice” based upon unfounded speculations and blind strategies—a leaders who will spare them from other wars in which they and their children will be called upon to fight and pay for.
Let them live in a country where they can afford to send their children to a post-high school education demanded by a technologically advanced society. Let them live in a country in which they can achieve a decent income, acquire sufficient resources capable of protecting them from unanticipated economic failure or erosion of monetary value, and protection from the economic assault of disease, disability, or chronic ailments.
I want to leave them a country that will assure them a country better protected from assaults on civil liberties than the one I will die in.
Next year more than five and half million of my age peers—those 75 and over will die. And over the following three years most of the rest of them will leave the voter registration rolls. For us, for them, this is the last opportunity to shape the legacy we would leave our grandchildren.
This may well be my last vote for a President and Vice President of this remarkable country. In casting it, I will have my children and their children in the forefront of my thought and prayers.