Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Entitlement Derangement

"Ask not," JFK urged at his inaugural, "what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."

Half a century later, making sacrifices, large or small, has vanished from most Americans' vocabularies, replaced by a raging sense of disappointed entitlement that leads them to blame everyone but themselves for what's wrong with their country.

In bipartisan disgust, only 22 percent now approve of Congress, a 10 percent decline in two months and, in a reversal of precedent, fewer than half want to reelect their own representatives. Barack Obama, the avatar of Hope little more than a year ago, is holding on to a bare majority of support.

Such dissatisfaction is understandable in the light of Congress' miserable performance, but something deeper seems to be involved--a grotesque growth of selfishness in the society from top to bottom.

The newest poll on health care, for example, shows only a minority of a minority supporting reform as a moral obligation to the uninsured with the majority, even though dissatisfied with the system, opposed in response to fears that have been aroused that they will have to pay more or get less.

"We pay for most of our health care indirectly, through taxes or paycheck deductions," says a New York Times analysis, "which lulls us into thinking that the care is somehow free. As the Stanford economist Victor Fuchs notes, many Americans say they want to control costs--but oppose just about any policy to do so. It should be no surprise that politicians do the same."

The Tea Party movement, fueled by fears that someone else in the society could benefit at their expense, may be only the tip of an iceberg of discontent that has been growing since JFK's time.

Back then, wars were fought by young people drafted from every stratum of society rather than the mostly poor who volunteer now as much out of economic need and the hope of upward social mobility as patriotism.

Back then, home ownership was hard-earned by saving for a substantial down payment rather than promoted as an automatic right by uncontrolled easy-buck middlemen who created a bubble that has almost wrecked the economy.

On all sides, the traditional American work ethic is being eroded by a Me Generation's sense of automatic entitlement, even as many members complain about such government safety nets as Social Security and Medicare for those who have gone before them and earned what they are now getting.

"Finally," Kennedy concluded in his inaugural speech, "whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you."

Amid all the scandals about politicians' corruption today, are they acting with any more greed and self-regard than many of us who put them into power?


Fuzzy Slippers said...

JFK had the right idea about asking what one can do for one's country as opposed to what one's country can do for one. He certainly didn't mean, and I'm not sure if you meant to imply that he did, that we should all foot the bill for everyone else. JFK was adamantly opposed to communism and to socialism, and he believed in personal responsibility, not in "social responsibility." You do know this, right? JFK was no progressive, and he certainly would not recognize today's "liberals."

Mark said...

Wait, why are you attacking people in their 20s with your uninformed comment about "work ethic"? Are people in their 20s standing in the street with signs that say "Get your government hands off my Medicare?"

If the oldest members of our society are greedy, they have no one to blame but themselves. If young people are greedy, then surely those who raised them bear much of the blame.

However, it's pretty hard to claim that young people (who voted 68-30 Obama) are the greedy ones compared to the elderly (54-44 McCain.)

Mark said...

Another thing to keep in mind you think that the young and largely powerless might be responsible for our current state of affairs:

- No one under age 44 voted for Ronald Reagan
- No one under age 56 voted for Richard Nixon

The die was cast for greed and militarism long before I hit junior high school.