March 1, 2009

Ask not or don't ask?

President Kennedy is often quoted for saying, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." Many may hear these words, but how many see the absolute absence of follow-through?

As often as I hear this key knowledge come from the mouths of political leaders, I have not heard the other important part. Everyone expects to hear about actions - specific actions - we can do.

Quite the opposite. Yes, "personal responsibility" was discussed during President Obama's inspirational inaugural address; yet, all his actions to date have been government actions. I have heard, "we intend to bring federally funded health care to you" and "we intend to bring jobs to your town" and "we intend to finally formalize regulation for you…". They have even enabled specific action plans for these intentions- not always good ones, mind you. What I have not heard are realistic responses about what individuals can do to help (other than to spend more, which is another issue altogether).

After the extreme events of 9/11, President Bush took actions to show how government could handle things. Instead of asking for personal responsibility, he did the exact opposite. He took actions which said, "don't worry, we've got it all covered." The nation notified us when to worry and when not to worry (as much) with the green, orange, and red threat levels. They "helped" us with more scrutiny at the airport. Never once did the government ask for help from citizens - certainly not in any major way.

Think of the irony of this. One plane eventually ended in Pennsylvania. It did not crash into a building on 9/11. Why was that? Was it because of the government? No. It was a group of informed passengers who had helped save many others. Who attempted to warn people about the internal problems with Enron. Was it a government agency? No. It was a few individuals. Who revealed the Madhoff scheme this past year? You guessed correctly - Individuals (his sons). Who saved a plane full of passengers of the US Airways plane that crashed in the Hudson? Was it the SWAT team? No. It was well-trained flight crew members and numerous private boaters.

Individuals have a proven track record of helping to make a difference. They make a difference when they are empowered to make a difference. The government should not need to cater to citizens like the spoiled children we have become. There are other options. The government should be empowering individuals to take personal responsibility. Individuals can do it, yes they can.

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