Ask Not…

Sixty years ago this past January President Kennedy stood hatless in the 7 degree wind chill and asked America to consider what they could do for their country, rather than what their country could do for them. This was sixteen years after the end of WWII where able bodied men and some women had been asked to give up those bodies for the country and eight years after more able bodied Americans had been asked to give up their bodies for World Peace and to stay Communist hegemony in Asia. Kennedy asked this only one year before he directed that more able bodied men be drafted into the legions and sent abroad to once again stay those very same communists in Asia. He would ask these men to do this although he had been advised by the greatest of all American military strategists not to commit land forces to the Indochina Peninsula. His successor, Johnson, would send 50,000 more troops and the draft quota would be increased to 35,000 more able bodied men per month. It would become America’s second longest war and claim the lives of almost sixty thousand of those able bodied men and not a few women as well.

This was the country asking and Americans answering but, when Kennedy spoke we were not just on the verge of America’s second longest war, we were also on the verge of the beginning of an era where many Americans would do exactly the opposite; rather than offering themselves up to the country they would ask the country to provide them housing, jobs, medical care, child care and education. Following on Roosevelt’s attempts to achieve equitable distribution of resources the Democrats would launch the multi-billion dollar effort known as the Great Society. It was what the Democrats would refer to as “practical idealism” which is as much of an oxymoron as “military intelligence” (I use this only because it appears in a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon I dearly love.)

They built programs based on their own ideas and the ideas of “experts” they claimed would increase certain segments of society’s access to the work place. They created Job training centers, Job placement programs, groups of people doing civic projects, educational programs and an abundance of other programs aimed at “lifting up” the downtrodden. But unlike in “Field of Dreams,” once it was built they didn’t come. The Great Society was built and funded for multi-year operation but few people took advantage of the opportunities. This was because the “idealists” had assumed everybody wanted a job, but they didn’t. They assumed everybody wanted access to an education, but they didn’t. Much of this was because at the same time they were building programs to provide access to the workplace they were also funding programs that provided “things” to those very same “downtrodden.” It was called welfare and it provided a minimum level of getting along in the society for those without employment. Why work when the government would provide subsidized housing, food, phones, medical care and other essentials, especially if working meant you would lose access to these things once you reached a certain level. And the government added requirements like if there was a working male in the family then the payments were reduced so the working males left the families and we began to construct a new culture among minority and poor members of the American society. The very basis of what had made America a success, the nuclear family, was no longer part of the government’s plan for achieving equity in American society. The idealists blew up the practical and went for the theoretical.

Today we see the difficulty in getting even middle class workers to return to work. Why work if the government is going to give you enough money to get by, forgive your rent or mortgage and write off your student loan? If this keeps on then a societal change will occur not unlike the one that occurred in certain minority communities where we have created an entirely new subculture and within it the old idea of working and achieving, accepting responsibility for your actions and expecting others to do the same, is no longer relevant. On the one side we have defenders of the ideal of total equality and a financial future guaranteed by the government while the other side wants a return to the culture wherein each individual is responsible for themselves and does not depend upon the government in whole or even in part. Regrettably, neither side can win because the subculture is now too ingrained in the society to move wholly into or away from either.

Barring a great cataclysm that results in a starting over, the two sides will continue to struggle against one another and that struggle may well pull down that which was built that was good as well as that the idealists consider bad. What the idealists seem to forget is that in cataclysmic events it is the poor and underrepresented who suffer the most. What did the French revolution do for the poor or the Russian revolution or the Cuban revolution? But since population is really the world’s most significant problem maybe a cataclysmic event will be Mother Nature’s way of restoring the balance. It remains to be seen if the idealists can work with the practical or if their efforts will truly bring down the Republic. What will happen now if a leader proposes, Ask Not…

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  1. Per data from the Social Security Administration, at the end of calendar year 2020 there were 8,151,016 disabled workers receiving payments under the SS Disability Program. The average monthly disability payment was about $1,250, the equivalent of a $7.20/h wage. The number of Americans of working age (ages 15-64) at the end of 2020 was approximately 205,532,000. This means that 1 out of every 25 Americans of working age is out of the work force and collecting a lifetime check from the other 24 Americans.

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