Rebuking the "Good Old Days"
When you hear someone longing for the "good old days," take it with a grain of salt. (Laughter and applause.) Take it with a grain of salt. We live in a great nation and we are rightly proud of our history. We are beneficiaries of the labor and the grit and the courage of generations who came before. But I guess it's part of human nature, especially in times of change and uncertainty, to want to look backwards and long for some imaginary past when everything worked, and the economy hummed, and all politicians were wise, and every kid was well-mannered, and America pretty much did whatever it wanted around the world.
Guess what. It ain't so. (Laughter.) The "good old days" weren't that great. Yes, there have been some stretches in our history where the economy grew much faster, or when government ran more smoothly. There were moments when, immediately after World War II, for example, or the end of the Cold War, when the world bent more easily to our will. But those are sporadic, those moments, those episodes. In fact, by almost every measure, America is better, and the world is better, than it was 50 years ago, or 30 years ago, or even eight years ago.
And by the way, I'm not -- set aside 150 years ago, pre-Civil War -- there's a whole bunch of stuff there we could talk about. Set aside life in the '50s, when women and people of color were systematically excluded from big chunks of American life. Since I graduated, in 1983 -- which isn't that long ago -- (laughter) -- I'm just saying. Since I graduated, crime rates, teenage pregnancy, the share of Americans living in poverty -- they're all down. The share of Americans with college educations have gone way up. Our life expectancy has, as well. Blacks and Latinos have risen up the ranks in business and politics. (Applause.) More women are in the workforce. (Applause.) They're earning more money -- although it's long past time that we passed laws to make sure that women are getting the same pay for the same work as men.
And just as America is better, the world is better than when I graduated. Since I graduated, an Iron Curtain fell, apartheid ended. There's more democracy. We virtually eliminated certain diseases like polio. We've cut extreme poverty drastically. We've cut infant mortality by an enormous amount. (Applause.)
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