All Take and No Giving

Aside from saying he was a doughnut [1], the most famous quote from President Kennedy was in his inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.” It was certainly powerful, but I’ve never been entirely comfortable with this, because I’m not sure what’s so bad about asking what your country can do for you. I mean, doesn’t the Declaration of Independence say that the purpose of a government is to secure people’s individual rights? That sounds like the country is for the people, not the other way ’round. Now, that’s not to say Kennedy was completely in the wrong, because there should be some give and take. But I can’t help but connect this legendary line with the idea that expecting help from a government is terrible, and anyone who does it is a leech on society. Remember when Mitt Romney made his infamous comment about how forty-seven percent of the nation wouldn’t vote for him because they “believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” What I don’t get is why this is such a bad thing. Aren’t a lot of these things people need regardless of their situation or background? The Republican line is that these people are lazy, and sure, some people genuinely are. But almost half the country? I tend to doubt that. There are a lot of people who are willing to work but can’t, either because of personal problems or because they just can’t find a job. After all, securing a job can be much more difficult than working one you already have. Government assistance is partially about helping people to get on their feet, and to make ends meet when they can’t do it on their own. Anyone can run into hard times, and it’s even more likely when you don’t even have bootstraps by which to pull yourself up. Isn’t that part of why we have a government and a nation, instead of just letting everyone fend for themselves? I’ve said before that I think the Republican philosophy is that government should take a purely punitive position, punishing those who transgress but not directly helping anybody. As such, is it any wonder that conservatives fear the government? Well, at least they claim they do, but I don’t know that I buy it. So much of our government is in the pocket of wealthy interests, after all. The government is helping them, and they don’t want to give anything back. Isn’t that kind of worse than collecting welfare when you might possibly have been able to work, if anyone had actually been willing to hire you?

And of course a certain level of distrust of the government (and of everybody, really) is a good thing, but at the same time most of us, even those of us who talk a big game about being self-reliant, depend on it for some things. Not to mention that Romney’s opponent at the time, President Obama, wasn’t exactly handing out all the government assistance people wanted, or even all they needed.

More recently, presidential candidate Jeb Bush has said he thinks people aren’t working hard enough, which makes me wonder why he never gave this advice to his brother. Aside from that, though, where are people supposed to get these extra hours they’re supposed to be working? And does this also mean people should work more hours even if they DON’T need the money? I’m suspecting it doesn’t; the Republicans aren’t much for criticizing people who inherited their money. In fact, their hatred of the estate tax means they think these people should be able to inherit EVEN MORE money than they already do. And even if we ignore that part of the equation, it’s not like working longer hours necessarily means getting more stuff done (humans are susceptible to stress and tiredness, after all), nor does it mean people who do slack off aren’t just going to do that over a longer period of time. While Romney’s comment was never intended to be made public, there have been plenty of comparable comments that were. Now, no candidate is going to be able to please everybody, but the blatant bashing of anyone who can’t afford to support themselves strikes me as awfully short-sighted. But then, the people listening are never supposed to think THEY’RE the ones who need to work more hours. It’s always other people, people they don’t personally know, and who thus can safely be vilified.

[1] From what I understand, this joke comes from how, in German, you’re supposed to leave out the indefinite article when saying you’re a resident of a place, which is to say he should have said, “Ich bin Berliner.” That said, Kennedy wasn’t actually wrong, nor did anyone misunderstand him. I’m not sure what the grammatically preferable way of actually saying you’re a doughnut is, as I doubt it comes up much, except in Bunbury.

“Ich bin ein BERLINER, nicht ein Krispy Kreme!”

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1 Response to All Take and No Giving

  1. Good article, and another example of the attitudes of the elite in the Domination System, which basically says “we rule you; you slave for us.” Only, they can’t come right out and say that, so they propagandize and scapegoat and bully, and keep enacting laws that punish the poor whilst ensuring that the wealthy ruling class remains on top. The damage that their insatiable greed has done and continues to do is beyond sickening, it’s satanic.

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