Watch Live: The Washington Ideas Forum 2014

The Two Americas Problem

America is so much more than just a place—America is an idea. And the idea of America—real, fundamental equality: equality of opportunity, equality of culture, equality of respect—matters more than ever. We all pay a price when young people who could someday find the cure for AIDS or make a fuel cell work are sitting on a stoop because they didn’t get the education they need. We all pay a price when our people turn to crime because they have no other hope. And we all pay a price when the idea of America doesn’t match the reality.

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The American Idea
Scholars, novelists, politicians, artists, and others look ahead to the future of the American idea.

Founded as the country where “All men are created equal,” our country is today struggling to live up to this idea. Too many Americans are separated from the opportunities of our country because of the family they were born into, the color of their skin, their gender, or where they live. There are still two Americas here at home, one for the powerful and another one for everyone else.

It hasn’t always been this way, though. I’ve been lucky enough to have every blessing you could ever have in this country, but I didn’t get to the place I am today by myself. My family had very little when I was growing up—my father had to borrow $50 to bring my mom and me home from the hospital—but with the support of my family and the community, and because of the opportunities of this country, I was able to go to college and get ahead.

Our job today is to make sure the idea of America is real for all Americans. And I am optimistic we can make it real. As we’ve seen over and over in our country—from the civil-rights movement to the women’s-rights movement to ending the war in Vietnam—when a group of people have the courage to stand up for what’s right, we can change the course of history.

John Edwards represented North Carolina in the U.S. Senate from 1999 through 2004.
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