Wednesday, January 30, 2008

No Jack Kennedy

John Kennedy's inaugural address featured the famous false dichotomy, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." It took me many years to realize those are not the only two choices, but it made for a great applause line, and that's all that politicians are really angling for in these speeches anyway.

Just for grips and grins the other night, I ran a line down the middle of my legal pad and made two columns: "What you can do for your country" and "What your country can do for you." I figured keeping score would help keep me awake during the State of the Union address, which was more or less a work assignment.

Now, I write cynical stuff about the nanny state all the time, but even I was a little shocked after filling a page and a half with notes on one side and nothing - nada, zero, etc. - under "What you can do for your country." I guess that column is more implicit than explicit. What you can do for your country is take it: Stand or sit there quietly while the state extracts a significant portion of your income before you ever see it. Stand or sit there quietly while you're treated as a suspect, with all of your personal information, your property and your body subject to search at any time, not because you committed any crime but, well, just because.

But what the Decider says your country can do for you: Lower your taxes and/or prevent the automatic tax increase that will come if the tax cuts of a few years ago expire on time. Provide tax-free state bonds to help you refinance your mortgage. Make your health care more affordable and accessible. End junk medical lawsuits. Empower you to demand results from your children's schools (Oddly, I thought you already could make such demands, but apparently you need the state's permission or something.) Reduce the number of high school dropouts. Open up new markets for your products overseas. If you've lost your job, your country can teach you new skills and help you find a new job. Give researchers and developers the money to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology. This is my favorite: Your country can slow, stop and eventually reverse the flow of greenhouse gases. Make donations to faith-based schools and organizations. Help Gulf Coast states rebuild stronger and better than before. Preserve entitlement programs so your children and grandchildren will be able to get government checks, too. Secure our borders and establish a program under which foreign workers can cross the borders legally. Spread the hope of freedom around the world. Deliver justice to our enemies. Expand access to child care and educational benefits for military families.

We don't have to ask what our country will do for us; it'll just give it all to us without our asking. The only thing it will not do is the best thing it could do for us: Leave us alone. Let us live and let live.

"So long as we continue to trust the people, our nation will prosper, our liberty will be secure and the state of our union will remain strong," Mr. Bush said as he concluded. But that's the problem, you see: He and the rest of the ruling class do not trust the people, and so we struggle from paycheck to paycheck, our liberty is under attack from the very people we are told will secure it, and the state of our union can only be considered strong if you define "the union" as our central government, which attempts to keep us under its thumb.

Good thing our lives don't depend on the government. But sssshhhh, don't tell the government that, it hates to hear the truth.



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