Where is JFK’s vision?

by Heather Robinson

John_F._Kennedy,_White_House_color_photo_portrait

With the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death approaching next month, it is tempting to speculate as to what JFK would have made of the inception of Obamacare and the general direction in which the country is headed.

On the one hand, in saying “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” JFK called for civic participation, including political activism. Surely he would have been delighted to see that the first black President was elected as a result of a broader segment of society getting out the vote. Our democracy demands participation, and this is not just a platitude; its strength and stability springs from the possibility – even requirement – that everyone has a stake in the system.

On the other hand, JFK’s seminal message to “Ask not what your country can do for you,” seems all but lost in an era when many Americans increasingly view the role of government as providing services – rather than, or in addition to, protecting life and liberty. When the balance shifts from appreciation of the nation’s principles and basic structure toward focus on what services government can provide each of us, surely we are departing from JFK’s vision.

We all need help from time to time, and a safety net is important. But is the primary role of government to issue checks and redistribute wealth? I would not presume to know, but I can’t help but think JFK didn’t intend or wish for us to become a nation of people who, whether rich or poor, relate to government primarily in terms of when we’ll receive our next check. (For instance, my understanding is that the biggest chunk of federal spending and biggest source of debt is social security. While those who collect have generally paid in, this program was designed as a safety net for impoverished elderly. Today, even people who retire with millions collect social security, sometimes for 40 years. Does anyone send back the check?)

With the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death soon to come, where is the desire to help others on one’s own initiative, to volunteer, to serve? Certainly it is alive in the spirit of those who volunteer to serve in our military. And it is alive in the hearts of many of our people. It’s worth considering, though, whether JFK – who asked much of Americans as individuals, calling upon them to give to their country, not nurture a sense of entitlement – would be pleased to see us headed toward a system in which the individual will have greater dependency than ever on the federal government, and whose citizens are expected to accept that government – not the individual – knows best.

This entry was written by and posted on October 28, 2013 at 11:21 am and filed under Blog.