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Asking Not

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Fifty-one years ago President John F. Kennedy delivered his inaugural address containing the thought provoking line, “And so, my fellow Americans – ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” That short Kennedy inaugurationspeech contains several other rhetorical gems such as, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” Kennedy declared, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” Today, the few who are rich seek to benefit from fear and a lack of negotiation as they seek what their country can do for them.

Foremost among those rich few is the Republican nominee apparent Mitt Romney. In his speech after the marginal New Hampshire primary, Romney castigated President Obama. “He wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society,” the candidate said. The GOP echo chamber reverberates with variations on the “European-style socialism” theme from television to Twitter. But just because Republicans repeat it does not make it so. The veracity of such rhetoric suffers the problematic flaws of ignorance and inaccuracy.

The ignorance is that most Americans do not know much about Europe other than that its economic situation is in far worse shape than our own. “Associating Obama with Europe links him to the current malaise in Europe, and Americans know it’s a basket case,” according to Rosemary Hollis of London’s City University. “It plays to the stereotypical notion that the USA has about Europe, that they [Europeans] are freeloaders, with no defense capability, and live on welfare [state] benefits.” She also said that Romney is “relying on a history of socialism being viewed as the enemy.” Socialism is the new Communism.

The inaccuracy is that Europe has increased its privatization which has led to a decline of the welfare state, which was a post-WWII idea crafted by the British economist and social reformer William Beveridge. He saw poverty, disease, ignorance, squalor, and idleness as the five “giants on the road to reconstruction.” Beveridge proposed setting up a welfare state with social security, a National Health Service, free education, public housing projects, and full employment as its objectives. The welfare state adopted the ideas of economist John Maynard Keynes, specifically that a government could keep its economy vigorous by increasing public spending. The British Labour government used its U.S. Marshall Plan aid money to get industry going. Then it nationalized the trucking, rail, and coal industries in 1947 and the steel industry in 1951.

The accusation that President Barack Obama is leading the country into any kind of socialist state is as erroneous as making the same accusation about his predecessor, President George W. Bush. Republicans conveniently ignore the fact that under Bush
Obama and Bushand Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson the government nationalized major banks. The TARP bailout also contained what can be called socialist elements. If Obama deserves a hit, it should be for hiring Republican appointees Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, whose deregulatory policies of the ‘90s helped create the crisis that required such a government rescue.

Romney has been wrong before. He opposed the automobile industry bailout. “IF (sic) General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed,” he wrote in a 2008 New York Times opinion article. “Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses.” That is not what happened.

The President is not leading the country into a European-style entitlement society, as Mitt Romney pontificates. If anything, President Obama is presiding over an inherited American-style entitlement society that has its origins in FDR’s New Deal, with the Social Security Act, extending through the JFK’s New Frontier and LBJ’s Great Society, with the Civil Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid. The Republican elites who opposed Democratic Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Johnson decried them as socialists too.

Anti-European, anti-socialism, anti-Obama rhetoric aside, let’s think about what JFK said, as his niece did last year in the Atlantic. “I almost never hear anything JFK inauguration, 1961like that call to sacrifice for the good of our country from our leaders today,” Kathleen Kennedy Townsend wrote. “When President Kennedy asked what we could do for our country, he didn’t pretend it would be easy, or painless, or even fair.” John F. Kennedy’s death for his country affirms that.

“So let us begin anew,” said the 35th President, “remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.” So far, that too is being lost on the wealthy Republican candidates seeking the Presidency. As they sink more deeply into incivility, their sincerity leaves much to be proved.

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About Tommy Mack

Tommy Mack began his career in broadcasting and is a US Army graduate of the Defense Information School. He worked in Army Public and Command Information and earned a BS in Liberal Studies from the State University of New York, Albany. A marketing communications executive, Tommy became a business management consultant for a major international consulting company and its affiliates before establishing Tommy Mack Organization, a business consulting practice specializing in organization and communications management. A professional writer and blogger, he writes about politics, business, and culture.
  • Igor

    #21-DD: markets have a weak effect on business. More important is capital reserves and government help, like sweetheart contracts, etc.

    Nobody even knows much about any market, except for something sensational, like a big runup, or collapse.

    Most of the loose talk about ‘markets’ is hopeful and delusional, not factual.

    Individual shareholders don’t usually even get a chance to vote because Proxies are used to aggregate votes.

    And EVERY business attempts to establish a real or virtual monopoly in the business.

  • whereas you have no say whatsoever on the policies and behaviour of a private company.

    Not entirely true, Igor. Whereas businesses usually play to the dumbest common denominator (they’re very adept, for example, at convincing us that we need a new cellphone every two years), they do have to respond to their markets to survive, so if the market were to have a sudden attack of smarts, organize and tell them that it won’t buy their products until they start paying their employees a dignified wage, a smart company is going to send a pay raise down the pipes pretty damn sharpish.

    The way they usually do this is to say things like, “We’re a caring company, we heard your concerns and we listened”, which makes them look good and disguises the fact that they were being complete dickheads before. So everybody wins.

  • Igor

    There is NO safety Net. The best hope for most people is to make it to 65 and get Social Security. That’s the only thing you can depend on. For god’s sake, you young people, don’t let the rightists talk you out of it! You can’t depend on anything else! As you see, the private sector will turn your hide in for a buck.

    My acquaintance Joe, 85, says he gave up all his vices in 1992 when he turned 65: he quit smoking, quit drinking and got divorced. Now he lives on his $1000/month SS, in a tiny house next to “John’s Towing Service”, drives a dusty old Ford, goes to Medicare every couple weeks for routine stuff.

    Joe says he applied for Food Stamps a couple years ago and it only amounted to $16/month. “Hell” he says “I got $100/month from the Teamsters for food when I needed it”. So he makes all meals from scratch, and raises tomatoes, peppers and corn on his little patch of earth.

    The only thing you can depend on is SS and Medicare. You’d be a fool to let them talk you into cutting it or ‘privatizing’ it. Because, in the end, you can organize and vote on it, whereas you have no say whatsoever on the policies and behaviour of a private company. As we see in current events, even private bond holders, considered the safest of investors, can get screwed.

  • Igor

    I would, seriously, ask Kenn, Clavos, etc., the guys who have all the answers, to tell me what my 3 youngish friends should do to earn an honest living?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    How DARE the guv’mint spend a penny of taxpayer dollars on people who are too lazy to get a job (never mind that there’s 4-point-something unemployed people for every available job)! Let ’em STARVE! That way they’ll work! That’s REAL freedom!

    America – love it or leave it!

    (says the guy who’s sitting in a house in the Philippines)

  • Igor

    TANF is a block grant to states, for families.


    States receive a block grant to design and operate their programs to accomplish the purposes of TANF.

    These are:

    assisting needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes

    reducing the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work and marriage

    preventing out-of-wedlock pregnancies

    encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

    The guys I’m thinking of are single, middle-aged, and only one has a visible family to help him.

  • Don’t know about TANF. From what I’ve seen, it applies only to families.

    As to General Relief, perhaps California is better than most. But if that’s your only “income,” it’ll still leave most people homeless. (Although the ex-mayor, Gavin Newsom, did institute a pilot program converting some old SF residential hotels to house the GA recipients.)

  • There is no safety net!

    They can always apply for TANF, Igor. Or, if they’re single, there’s always General Relief and having social services tell ’em what they can spend their money on – down to the penny.

  • Igor

    “Safety net”? What safety net?

    I have 3 friends about 40 years old who have run out of unemployment. None of them has even got a whiff of a job in the last several months!

    There is no safety net!

  • The problem is the loaded word “welfare” itself. Republican mantra is that welfare is bad. Democratic mantra is that welfare is essential. The issue is not bad versus good. The issue is how do we manage what exists to answer the question of what is in the best interest of the country. That involves the safety-net programs that Mr. Romney does not comprehend and that the other Republican job-seeking elite deride that came from President Johnson’s Great Society.


  • Igor

    The American 99% paradoxically votes against it’s own interests. I think it’s because of the domination of the Mainstream Media by rightists owners who dictate what will be shown and what the proper slant will be.

    Part of the overwhelming propaganda barrage from the owners is the strange idea that the MSM is leftist!

  • Thanks, Glenn.

    To me, what’s especially jaw-dropping about it is that one of the specific constitutional powers/responsibilities given to the federal government is the promotion of the general welfare.

    It takes an extremely painful and messy divorce from reality to argue that health doesn’t fall under the heading of “welfare”.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Doc –

    To me it beggars belief that Americans can argue so vehemently against efforts to better their own health and welfare. This to me is obtuse.

    AAAAAAAAAMEN! Quoted for truth!

  • Franco,

    First of all, good to see you back at BC and hope that things are going well down there in Chile, if that’s still where you’re at.

    I think that the disagreement between you and Tommy isn’t so much a question of him being obtuse as it is an illustration of how two people can look at the same set of information and come to completely different conclusions.

    For instance, I grew up under the welfare state in the UK. It has its spectacular failings, for sure (e.g. long and occasionally indefinite waiting lists for even major surgeries), but by and large it works very well. To me it beggars belief that Americans can argue so vehemently against efforts to better their own health and welfare. This to me is obtuse.

    I suspect you see things somewhat differently, but just because you think my (or Tommy’s) opinion is wrong, and feel strongly that you are right, doesn’t mean our heads are planted in the sand.

  • Franco

    Hi Doc,

    I am aware that British Conservatives would like to see Britain be more like the United States, and I share their sentiments.

    I’m not sure what your point was in posting the link, but it’s really just reporting on one man’s opinion and shouldn’t be taken as indicative of the prevailing mood in Europe.

    One Britain’s opinion along with many others that I happen to agree with, and so do a lot of Americans. And no where did I even suggest that it is the prevailing mood in Europe. I really do not see how you could read that into it.

    My posting was directed at Tommy Mack for his complete denial of what many others in both the US and in Europe see clearly that he dose not. It really blows my mind that he is this obtuse. That is way I suggested he get out more.

  • The US of E is as farcical as austerity measures.

    To understand the US of A, watch ESPN. American broadcasters and athletes who have European names speak broadcast English. It is their native language.

    Europeans speak their native languages.

    Look at the map of the US. Those state borderlines were not determined by wars. Europe’s borders were the result of wars.

    European countries would like to emulate the US. But Europe is a collection of wayfaring nations, not states.

    Florida has never declared war on Georgia, Alabama, or Mississippi.

    Greece’s austerity measures are like getting a payday advance that costs usurious interest and requires making less money as a condition of the advance.


  • Glenn Contrarian

    A “United States of Europe”?

    At one time I thought that was a good idea…but now I no longer think so. As our own Founding Fathers realized when they decided to junk our Articles of Confederation for what we now have in the Constitution – and as Chris points out – a toothless government is an ineffective government…and it’s not good for the people.

    So the Founding Fathers decided to have a much stronger federal government, and I must admit that in the big picture this has worked pretty well for America.

    But this would not work well for Europe, for I strongly doubt that the nations with much longer histories than that of America would submit to a strong federal government, essentially demoting them to the status of American states than that of nations in their own right. I don’t think that such could be accomplished short of war, tyranny, and subsequent ChiCom-style hegemony.

    So…no – I don’t think a U.S. of E. is a viable possibility.

  • Calling Daniel Hannan a “British leader” is far more than a bit of a stretch, it is bending the facts completely out of shape.

    Not only have I never even heard of this guy before, despite him being an MEP for 12 years, the European Parliament itself is a complete joke of a body that has almost no meaningful power at all.

    I am a supporter of the idea of greater European integration and would like to see something like a United States of Europe, but currently there are massive structural problems that make it impossible for the European project to succeed in its current format.

    As there doesn’t seem to be the slightest little sign anywhere of a meaningful positive reform and rebuild movement of the European political landscape, I can only see it staggering along its current path until events conspire to overwhelm it, which will probably be a very painful experience for hundreds of millions of people.

  • Oh, hi, Franco.

    Calling Daniel Hannan a “British leader” is a bit of a stretch. He’s known for his American-style libertarian ideas, but doesn’t have much pull, either within his party or in general.

    And you should be aware that one of the distinguishing features of British Conservatives is their tendency to fantasize about how great it would be if Britain were more like the United States.

    I’m not sure what your point was in posting the link, but it’s really just reporting on one man’s opinion and shouldn’t be taken as indicative of the prevailing mood in Europe.

  • Franco

    Tommy, you really deed to get out more.

    British leader warns of Obama ‘Europeanization’ of U.S.

  • Thanks, Glenn. My bet is that this will be ignored. The Committee rings a bell alright. Ha!


  • Glenn Contrarian

    That is a brilliant article, Tommy – and as such will be either ignored or vilified by anyone on the Right.

    BTW – I just heard the current crop of GOP candidates referred to as the Committee to RE-Elect the President. I think that might ring a bell with you….