Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ask not what your congressman can do for you

We've come a long way from John F. Kennedy's inauguration speech of January 20, 1961. It is from this great speech that President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." On a Townhall-like telephone conference with Congressman Sander Levin a few weeks ago this was the last thing on questioners' minds. All they most wanted to know was what the federal government will do for them.

According to the conference moderator, over 2000 people from the congressman's district were on the phone. It was the congressman's staff's job to screen questions. Maybe Kennedy's words were the last thing on the screeners' minds. The only questions I heard asked were basically:
  • How can the government pay for my health insurance?
  • How can the government pay for my child's education?
  • How can the government lower gas prices?
  • How can the government pay for my mortgage?
After answering a few of these, I could have easily taken the congressman's place because his answer to each was basically, "Democratic leaders in the house and senate are working to provide (fill in the blank) but we'd make better progress with a friend in the White House, instead of President Bush."

From the congressman's point-of-view, the only thing stopping Democrats from paying for everything was President Bush. If that's the case, I'm glad President Bush is there, and am not optimistic for either an Obama or Clinton presidency.

The high cost of health insurance, education, and the so-called mortgage crisis are likely the product of government interference in the first place. Many who get the joke chuckle when the hear,
patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do this
doctor: Then stop doing that!
If government interference helped create the problem, why do so many expect more government interference will remedy it? I had a grandmother that used to over-cook meat. She thought the solution to any tough, unchewable roast was to put it back in the oven.

When someone else is paying our tab we tend to be less careful what we put on it. This is the case with corporate expense accounts as much as it with insurance. Healthy people are perfectly capable of fighting off infections without antibiotics, but since they're made less expensive with insurance we're seldom reluctant to have them prescribed for us. This is an unnecessary medical subsidy that inflates the prices of medicines and contributes to the antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

Government subsidies also remove the pressure on colleges to yield to the economics of supply and demand. Administrative and staff salaries, building and maintenance expenses are all increasing faster than inflation, and both state and federal governments are racing to back-fill their budgets so the cost to families might remain affordable. Though universities teach supply & demand, as well as the basics of capitalism and free markets, apparently they prefer a more socialist funding mechanism.

Gas prices? Punish the oil companies. None of us are individually responsible for our nation's dependence on foreign oil. We have a right to live wherever we want, drive whatever we want, heat our homes and pools to whatever temperature we want, and exercise our recreational vehicles however we desire. The preferred mechanism to affording our wants is to have the government pay for it--which is to say taxpayers. And while income taxes are graduated--have "the rich" pay for it. In fact the less we pay in income tax the better the deal it is.

Congressman Levin also promised to rescue homeowners at risk of foreclosure or upside-down on their mortgages. Even before 2005 economists warned home prices couldn't keep going up. Everyone that lived through the Internet Bubble of 2000 or the savings & loan scandal knew the economists were right--but that didn't stop them from buying more home than they could afford or speculating that interest rates wouldn't rise.

So what else did President Kennedy say in that speech? Read it for yourself. You might notice he used words similar to what President Bush used in Israel that so upset Democrats. A good speech, like a good constitution, is as relevant today as it was when first composed. The only difference I see today from 47 years ago is that that speech seems more conservative than progressive, and more likely to come from Bush than either Clinton or Obama.

So I wonder to myself, have Republicans become more like Kennedy or have Democrats become less like him?


  1. "How can the government make congressman who have no conception of the proper role and limits of government go away?"

    (It can't - it justs attracts them.)

    Terrific post.

  2. Thanks, Jack.

    One thing they might do is pass the Enumerated Powers Act. According to Williams, it's introduced every year.

  3. And in answer to your question, both.


  4. Bottom line: Gov't. is the problem, not the solution.
    Carolyn Watson

  5. Thank you, Carolyn. That reminded me of something.

    Twenty years to the day after Kennedy's inaugural, Ronaold Reagan said this at his:

    In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden.

    I'm curious, which of the remaining presidential candidates is prepared to deliver and carry-out this theme in their 2009 address?