Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Excerpt: 'America Back on Track'

I am writing this book because I believe Americans are ready -- indeed, eager -- to meet our nation's greatest challenges. To start that essential process I set forth seven critical challenges. Each reflects a modern test of our oldest principles. But each also offers us a chance to join with the great generations that preceded us in fulfilling America's promise.

The first challenge is to reclaim our constitutional democracy and keep it vital for the future.

The Founding Fathers established separate executive, judicial, and legislative branches in order to create a system of checks and balances that would protect Americans from tyranny. That system is under threat today. The executive branch has increasingly asserted its right to act in secrecy and to ignore laws passed by Congress. The courts have not yet stepped up to the challenges posed by these unprecedented claims of presidential power, and the majority in Congress has chosen uncritical support for the president instead of meeting their constitutional duty to oversee and check executive power. The judicial branch has increasingly substituted its judgment for that of Congress on issues of national importance. The result is a federal system that is dangerously unbalanced. We must insist on a return to the Framers' vision of three branches that respect and check one another.

The second challenge is to develop a new definition of national security for a changed world.

I believe that the tragedy of September 11, 2001, will produce the next great generation of Americans, just as the attack on Pearl Harbor summoned a new generation to defend our country and the world. But today's leaders are looking backward, not forward. They recognize only one method of leadership -- military power -- while ignoring diplomacy, economic development, and the protection of human rights. They fail to recognize that poverty and national humiliation are as dangerous to our security as any weapon. We need to return to the most effective ways America has influenced nations throughout the world in the past: by offering a helping hand and abiding by our deepest principles -- rather than jettisoning them in the name of national security.

The third challenge is to participate fully in a shrinking world.

We now live on a planet where the products we buy may be made in distant lands, our medical records stored in computers half a world away, and vital research carried out in educated corners of the poorest nations. America must respond to globalization by preparing every man, woman, and child to compete successfully in this new world. We must commit ourselves to excellence in education for all and invest the resources needed to reach that goal. Each past generation of Americans has broadened educational opportunities for its youth, and the global economy demands that we do no less today.

The fourth challenge is to achieve an economy that works for all, not just for a privileged few.

The incomes of Americans are as unequal today as they were under President Hoover. The inequality of wealth is even worse -- and likely to deepen. As the opening words of the Constitution proclaim, "a more perfect union" is dedicated to "the general welfare" -- not prosperity for some and poverty for others.

The fifth challenge is to provide health care to every American.

One of the most jarring consequences of inequality in America is that we are capable of providing first-rate medical care but fail to make it available to many millions of our people. The solution seems as simple as it is obvious, and it is well grounded in the American experience: Medicare for all.

The sixth challenge is to resume the march of progress toward equal opportunity for all.

Despite the many gains, there is still unacceptable prejudice against people of color. There is bigotry against too many others as well, and in important areas we have moved backward in recent years. The evidence of bias against women in the workforce is undeniable, and so is the evidence of bias against gays and lesbians. We cannot allow the march of progress to come to a halt or to shift into reverse.

The seventh challenge is to restore our basic values and reunite our nation.

We hear about our values all the time these days. We are told that we are divided over our most basic beliefs. I do not believe that is true. We have differences of opinion, because we pride ourselves on our pluralism. But there is much more that unites us. We share a profound commitment to basic rights for all -- rights to life and liberty, to opportunity, to a decent education, to a job. We believe in fairness and honesty in business. We believe in a free press eager to speak truth to power. We believe that the government cannot tell us whom we can marry or where we can worship or intrude on any of our other important personal and family decisions. With so much to unite us, we must join together in rejecting those who coarsen our political system and divide us for their own political purposes.

Courtesy of Viking Books, copyright 2006, Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy