Monday, September 07, 2009

Who cares what presidents think?

I was just reading over Obama's speech to be given to students tomorrow and started thinking about this passage:

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?


This speech made me think back to a much quoted passage of Kennedy's inaugural address,"Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." My question is "Why?"

I would rather think that the words of Milton Friedman from his book Capitalism and Freedom make more sense:

The paternalistic "what your country can do for you" implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man's belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, 'what you can do for your country' implies that government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary. To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them. He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common traditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors, and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped and served.


Government should be about helping us to protect our freedoms, not making us into wards who are to protect and serve our government. Obama's remarks don't make note of this. Maybe there is more to life than what future presidents think of us.

34 Comments:

Blogger Kevin M said...

Marcus Tullius Cicero said it first, unless I am very much mistaken.

"Ask not what your country..."

If you're looking for originality, skip the politicians. They all steal from each other.

4:02 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger Dr.D said...

If we want to be remembered for what we did for our country, it will be that we over threw incipient tyranny from the Left that was rising like Powder Milk biscuits in 2008. That would be something we could all be proud of doing. Otherwise, not so much.

6:25 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger funsize said...

I disagree, but only because of the use of the word "country". I agree that the individual should not act towards the governing entity as a servant or fief, and that the governing entity is not the paternalistic patron. However, the country is comprised of more than just government. Doing something great for America in the spirit of America is absolutely something we should encourage children to strive for.

7:55 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger Peter said...

I'm pretty sure that all kinds of awful things would happen to me if I demanded to speak to his daughters. So, why does he think he has the right to speak to my grandchildren, uninvited?

Last I read the Constitution we did not have any royalty, we are supposed to be a nation of equals. Therefore I propose that he speak to Malaria and Smallpox or whatever their names are, and my sons and daughter will speak to their children.

8:03 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger george said...

I always thought it more appropriate to change the quote;

Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what it can do TO you!

I can't help but feeling that any fair reading of history will reveal my version to be much closer to the truth.

8:03 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger rhhardin said...

I had assumed JFK was making a Shakespearean pun.

8:14 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger Al said...

Well, my favorite quote is:

"People shouldn't be afraid of their governments...Governments should be afraid of their people!"

V for Vendetta

8:58 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger Lillie said...

+1 for Peter.

9:00 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger MainStreet said...

I'm as partisan as they come, but I do believe we are nit picking on this one. Obviously the Dept of Ed's playbook was over the top in favor of his royal highness, but the speech is not that bad.

We do have a responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves, but not those who choose to screw up their lives and not get an education, and not get a job, and have children they cannot afford to care for, and not spend time with their children to teach them right from wrong, and not teach them moral ethics and the benefits of hard work.

It starts with education, and it is obvious the teachers union has the veto vote on charter schools and any other promising idea that comes around.

Let us help those that want to be productive citizens be the best they can be, and be proud of those that make it and achieve, without government help, the American dream.

9:05 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger MainStreet said...

I'm as partisan as they come, but I do believe we are nit picking on this one. Obviously the Dept of Ed's playbook was over the top in favor of his royal highness, but the speech is not that bad.

We do have a responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves, but not those who choose to screw up their lives and not get an education, and not get a job, and have children they cannot afford to care for, and not spend time with their children to teach them right from wrong, and not teach them moral ethics and the benefits of hard work.

It starts with education, and it is obvious the teachers union has the veto vote on charter schools and any other promising idea that comes around.

Let us help those that want to be productive citizens be the best they can be, and be proud of those that make it and achieve, without government help, the American dream.

9:05 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger Jim said...

I'm 62 and all I can think that my generation did for America was sex, drugs, rock&roll, and now Barry. Not a good track record. But, I'm an individual who does want I believe is right. I work hard, I am honest, I believe that Jesus is my Lord an Savior and maybe most of all I really don't care what others think. I use My Mind everyday. I'm a Thinker and Producer.

9:23 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger Doom said...

'Vox Day' covered this some time back. One thing interesting was that the what JFK said, actually, was a complete gutting and mutilation of a Latin or Greek saying that pretty much was meant in a very different direction. Hand it to liberals to take a good saying and despoil it.

I had heard the old saying before but had never connected the two. It would be akin to changing "to have and to hold" to course language regarding animal human sex or something. I was angry when I understood the connection, actually. Ah well, at least he is having cigars with Uncle Joe and Arifat, waiting for Castro and the good butts. Or, something like that.

10:04 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger br549 said...

Trouble is, and we all know, this isn't at all what he had in mind to say at first. I have to assume he'd prefer to say what he had in mind, and not the back up speech.

I suppose he's also going to tell our kids to keep the proper air pressure in their bicycle tires.

10:12 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger comatus said...

When I was in the second grade, the principal's secretary heard on the radio that President Eisenhower's motorcade was going to pass two blocks away, on his way to go duck hunting (yep, things were different then). The whole school queued up and marched over to the expressway on-ramp (it wasn't an Interstate yet). A couple of the fifth-grade hall monitors were Brownies, so they taught us all how to do a two-fingered Scout salute.

When the limo rolled past, Ike was about halfway out the window, beaming and waving. He addressed us! He said, "Hi, kids!" and I have never forgotten those words.

I got to see the last man to conquer Europe, clearly one of the Great Men of all history. And yet he confined his comments. Would that we had such humility today.

Thank you.

10:59 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger JAL said...

If it's about what the kids can do for this country (Isn't that quite a burden to put on kids?) why did the President use the word "I" 57 times?

And if he is doing everything he can to make sure the kids have a good education, will someone ask him about school choice vouchers?

11:02 PM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger Almost Ali said...

RE: "We do have a responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves..."

Not "we," you.

12:17 AM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger newscaper said...

Mainstreet said
"Obviously the Dept of Ed's playbook was over the top in favor of his royal highness, but the speech is not that bad."


What on earth makes you think this is the original speech?

I've said elsewhere that the creepiest thing in the teachers guides was for them to hold on to the students 'how I can help the president' work in order to hold the students 'accountable' later for following thru.

12:32 AM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger Doom said...

And again, I heard it mentioned that the anger by parents at the real or imagined indoctrination of their children is both a little late and a little sorry. What do parents think happen every other day of the year? And, after trying to rebut that in my mind for a bit, I couldn't.

Still, if I had kids, they would not be home for the day. They would simply not be in one of the indoctrination centers to begin with. That is one of the things I am vetting prospective wives regarding.

2:01 AM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger Dawn's husband said...

Dr. Helen has far more insight on this matter than some of our elite pundits.
I'm looking at you, Podhoretz and Richman.

2:17 AM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger fred said...

You are misconstruing simply because you do not want to like anything said by a party you nev er vote for. What you can do for yhour country implies serving the greater good, being patriotic. Our servicemen "did" for their country rather than run off to escape serving.

6:49 AM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger Carolus said...

Do well for yourself, your family, and your friends, and you will do well for your country. It does not matter how many activist causes you support if you fail in your personal responsibilities to yourself and those around you. What's so hard to understand about that?

6:55 AM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

zeitgiest.

after that, nothing else matters.

obama is in with the banks like any other president.

he is like the pied piper this morning.

he ain`t gonna help, god isn`t going to help. we`ve got to help ourselves.

8:33 AM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger DADvocate said...

In my kid's school system, listening to Obama's speech is entirely voluntary. Curiously, my daughter brought home a note that had to be signed in order for her to listen to the speech rather than not listen. I thought this quite interesting that parental approval was needed to listen.

I couldn't care less what future presidents think of me. Especially since I'm not sure what type of people they'll be or what beliefs they'll support.

I do care what my kids think, and their kids think. One branch of my family fought in the Revolutionary War. I hope my kids remember me as someone who supported and fought for freedom as did my ancestors.

10:11 AM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger David said...

A more empathetic individual would have asked "what will the *kids* in 100 years be learning about what you did for this country?" The way he framed it was a little narcissistic.

I believe that it was de Toqueville who observed that a French farmer who did an especially good job of raising crops would expect to get an award from the government...an American farmer would laugh at such an idea.

11:36 AM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger Zainuddin said...

Carolus is right. The statement should be "Ask not what your country can do for you rather ask what you can do for yourself". If you do well for you and yours than you will do well for your country as surely as the sun rising in the East and night following day.
Zainuddin Banatwala

11:58 AM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger gawker said...

Does Dr Helen also believe that loving one's country also refers to loving its government?

12:45 PM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger Alex said...

David - no. American farmers simply get paid by Uncle Sam to throw away crops.

2:40 PM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger The Furtive Burgerer said...

This nation was founded by people who pulled together to overcome tyrrany. Our greatest triumphs have always been cooperative, not individualistic - even when one great man led us, it was we, not he, who triumphed. We've lost that ethic, it's all "what's in it for me" now. If that's the lesson we teach our children, we should expect them to disenfranchise and dispossess us as soon as they have to power to do so. That is not a future I wish for myself or any of us.

Presidents lead - that is their job. They lead us all, whether we voted for them or not. It is as appropriate for BO to take this role to the schools as it was for Bush, and Bush II, and almost every president since Kennedy. And if any of you have a draft of a different message that was foreborn in favor of the one that was given, please post it; if you don't, then don't sow malicious rumors. There are enough lies in the world already without making up your own here.

3:45 PM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

we are just choosy who we leave our children alone with....

....it`s kinda creepy that this bright shiney nut-brown talking head wants to be a parent now too.

thankfully children have enough of a bullshit detector in place that he will get tuned out like any other adult who talks too long about things that have no interest to them.

you know, like big people do.

he`s getting to be like oprah.

5:48 PM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger David said...

Alex...they certainly didn't get paid to throw away crops while M de Toqueville was visiting.

6:29 PM, September 08, 2009  
Blogger DADvocate said...

It is as appropriate for BO to take this role to the schools as it was for Bush, and Bush II, and almost every president since Kennedy.

That's why the Democrats were so happy when Bush 41 made a televised speech in a school. People don't want their kids indoctrinated into totalitarian thought.

9:07 AM, September 09, 2009  
Blogger The Furtive Burgerer said...

Dadvocate, your point is a good one. I assume you're pointing out that it's irrational and unhelpful to cling slavishly to a party line when it comes to matters of basic ethics and morality. Whether I agree with the president or not, and whichever president it may be, it is okay in my book for that person to give a speech about staying in school and doing as well as you can there. A speech about health care reform, fighting terrorism, or energy independence? Not so much. But seeing the president take the time to tell something to children that is important to those children is nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, we should be ashamed, as I was in '91, that we turn something valuable for the kids into such a political football.

12:09 PM, September 09, 2009  
Blogger Mario said...

I'm with MainStreet on this one, and no one could call me a collectivist or say that I fall for that "ask not" crap. But, this is nitpicking.

Presidents always speak of country, and it doesn't matter whether they're Republican or Democrat. In the context of this entire speech, which I think is good, this is minor, political fluff.

Nevertheless, I have not seen the lesson plans and teachers' guides. Maybe I should, because I have a feeling they may very well be creepy.

8:28 PM, September 09, 2009  
Blogger Nate said...

A bit off topic...but *wow* Comatus, I'm quite jealous. Indeed, would that we had someone like Eisenhower still with us, today.

12:18 AM, September 10, 2009  

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