With the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination upon us, the clip of the most memorable line of his Inaugural Address, and probably of his entire presidency, has run over and over again on television. “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
The line has stayed with us for all these years, I think, in part because it is elegant. There is a rhythm to it, a cadence, a symmetry. Like most great observations, it’s brief. It’s easy to grasp. It resonates because, at some level, that’s how most of us back then wanted things to be.
Chris Matthews, who has written a book about JFK, says the line is “a hard Republican-sounding slap at the welfare state.” Yes. And that’s another reason so many Americans were so enthralled by his simple request. That Kennedy was a Democrat gave his plea to the American people even more power and legitimacy.
As I watched that old black and white film, and listened to JFK’s words, it occurred to me that I can’t imagine Barack Obama ever uttering such a message. If anything – and if he thought he could get away with it – he’d make his own simple, elegant, easy to understand plea: “Ask not what you can do for your country – ask what your country can do for you.”
And then he’d offer up a laundry list: Your government can offer you free food stamps, and free unemployment insurance that lasts almost two years, and free disability payments even if you aren’t disabled and applied because your unemployment benefits finally ran out, and free Obama phones, and, of course, free birth control pills.
No, President Obama didn’t come up with those programs (except for the birth control pills), but they all got bigger since he became president.
JFK, despite the fact that he was a Democrat from Massachusetts, was conservative on a lot of issues. He understood that cutting taxes, for instance – even for the wealthiest Americans — was a way to spur economic growth that would benefit everybody. Barack Obama has no such understanding. He once told an interviewer that he would be in favor of raising capital gains taxes – even if that would result in less tax revenues – because it was the “fair” thing to do.
Can you imagine anyone with even a simple grasp of economics saying something so breathtakingly stupid?
In his new book, JFK Conservative, Ira Stoll makes the point that in 1960 “the anti-Communist, anti-big government candidate was John F. Kennedy. The one touting government programs and higher salaries for public employees was Richard Nixon.”
Today, the only ones President Obama calls on “to do” for their country are the wealthy. They’re the ones who enable him to “spread the wealth around” as he told Joe the Plumber. I don’t recall him every calling on anyone else “to do” anything for their country.
Last year, Larry Kudlow wrote that, “Between 2008 and 2011, federal welfare payments have jumped 32 percent. Food stamps have surged, with 71 percent more spending on the program in 2011 compared with 2008. Health payments, principally Medicaid, have climbed 37 percent.
“By the way, it’s not just the deep recession and weak recovery that’s driving up these programs. It’s a substantial eligibility expansion, which started under George W. Bush, but has gone much further under President Obama.”
Kennedy knew that government was there to help those who needed help, temporarily. As Chris Matthews said, JFK’s most famous line was a slap at the welfare state. Barack Obama embraces the welfare state. Kennedy didn’t want government to be our nanny. That may be the biggest difference between JFK and BHO.