Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

What Does Success Really Mean?

As the Republican National Convention continues, the major political parties are striving to articulate their vision of how to create a successful nation. Host Michel Martin offers her thoughts about how Americans define success.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally, if you've had the chance to catch any of our programs this week, then you might have noticed that I've asked a number of our guests - especially our guests joining us from the Republican National Convention in Tampa - what they think it means these days to have a successful country. And rest assured, I will be asking the same question next week when the Democrats are meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina.

So why am I asking? I'm asking because at the core of it I think this is what the election is about. Anne Romney, wife of the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt, talked about this last night when she spoke early and often about success - her husband's success in business, their successful family and family life.

Make no mistake - it was a pointed and political speech, charmingly delivered. She made the argument that those who are criticizing her husband's record and candidacy are really attacking him for being successful.

But what does being successful really mean? Does it mean to make a lot of money, as Mr. Romney so clearly has done? Does it mean to make significant policy changes through public service, as Mr. Romney has also done - most notably in advancing universal health care in Massachusetts? Does it mean to have a long and apparently happy marriage, as well as healthy and productive children, as the Romneys have done together? Or does it mean to have the opportunity to, as Anne Romney also suggested, just to struggle a little less, to worry just a little less, to spend a little less time on the daily grind and more on the simple pleasures of living?

Can I just tell you? These sound like simple questions, but I think we all know that they are not, because these questions speak to what it is we value most, what we think others should value and what it is we believe our government should do to promote those things, or at least get out of the way of our getting them. And these questions also speak to what it is we believe is possible.

Well, I was listening to Anne Romney's speech. I read an email I had just received from an advocacy group that works on issues it believes are important to mothers - noting correctly that a majority of mothers of young children are now in the paid labor force. That group called for paid family leave, affordable child care, and an end to what it called wage and hiring discrimination that it says too often penalizes mothers. That group also called for universal health care and breast-feeding rights, saying that those are the kinds of things that families really need to thrive to be successful.

I don't know the people that sent me that email any more than I know Anne Romney, but I think I recognize in both the same desire. I think they want what they think is best for themselves, for their children, and for other people's children too. The trick of it is, do they want enough of the same things as well as a means of achieving those things?

As I said, we'll be asking many of our guests that question this week and next. And while we're at it, what about you? What does it mean to be successful, to have a successful country? How do we get there? It sounds like an essay on a college application but it's one all of us should really try to answer for ourselves, and even more importantly, to share with each other.

Send me a tweet @TELL ME MORENPR or send an email to TELL ME MORE@NPR.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues
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