Thursday, June 7, 2012

"Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You..."

One of our earliest school memories was a quote board we had in our 4th grade class room. Ms. Selario would put a quote on the board, but instead of just writing it on the board, she would use pictures to represent each word and the class had to figure it out. The only quote we remember was JFK’s famous line in his inauguration speech “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.”

Think about that quote for a minute against the backdrop of today’s society and politics.

Politicians run around bragging about all the things they will make the country do for you, without a peep about the things you should be doing for your country (except for "millionaires" - they should be doing even more).

It’s the complete opposite of what JFK urged 51 years ago, and it’s pathetic.

Next time you hear a political ad, speech or tweet, there is a very good chance that it conveys a promise of money or services that the government should provide to individuals, rather than how government can support individuals who positively contribute to their country.  A quick scan of today's White House tweets shows promises for lower student loan interest rates, free check ups and prescriptions for women, subsidized mortgage refinancings and insurance rebates.  In other words, what the country can do for you.   

The White House did have a tweet about how tax cuts for the wealthy and small businesses are bad, but asking less than 1% of the population to fund an even higher percentage of government entitlements hardly seems to fit into JFK’s ideal. Asking the country to pay for your birth control pills, your motorized scooter, or 99 weeks of vacation job-hunting sounds a lot like asking what your country can do for you. Paying zero or negative income taxes, squandering the opportunities provided by a free education or being satisfied with a government funded life, in perpetuity, is not what JFK had in mind when asking what you can do for your country.

Based on his quote, we’d guess that JFK would be very uncomfortable with the decline in personal responsibility in society today. It’s always someone else’s responsibility or someone else’s fault – never our own.

Your kid acts out or performs poorly in school – it’s the teachers fault. Armed with your limited use liberal arts degree from Timbuktu State, you can't find a job and can’t pay your government-subsidized student loans – it’s the governments fault and they should further reduce your already subsidized interest rate or just forgive the loans altogether. You smoke 3 packs a day, hydrate on Jack Daniels, and feast on fast food and wonder why health care is so expensive – it’s the insurance industry’s fault. You bought a house you couldn’t afford, haven’t paid your mortgage in three years, have 10 maxed out credit cards, and you wonder why your house is foreclosed upon – it’s the "vampire squid" bank’s fault.

We live in the land of opportunity, not the land of entitlement.  

Once those who would rather ask what their country can do for them outnumber those who have asked what they can do for their country, reforming our entitlement society will be electorally challenging and the status quo will ultimately lead to economic and social devastation.

Just ask Greece.


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