A loyal reader asked me to compare the ideas reflected in the most famous quotes of Presidents John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan with Barak Obama's beliefs.
Kennedy said in his Inaugural Address, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country." Kennedy's emphasis was on the second clause of his sentence, where he was making an invitation to public service. Government would do good through voluntary pubic service, even to the point of self-sacrifice. Kennedy's Peace Corps was the most famous and enduring example of his belief. Nonetheless, conservatives are right to recognize in the first clause of Kennedy's quote an implicit rejection of welfare statism: people ought not to expect the government to do for them what they can do for themselves.
Ronald Reagan observed in his First Inaugural that "Government is not the solution. Government is the problem." Reagan was being somewhat hyperbolic to make his point that government must get out of the way so that people could do for themselves. Heavy-handed government is inefficient and ineffective in accomplishing its intended purpose of doing good, so government should stick to focusing on defending liberty so that the American people could do good themselves without being inhibited by government bureaucracy.
Though a gifted orator, Barak Obama offered no memorable quote from his Inaugural Address, but his overall approach is a return to the idea that government can and should do good. However, unlike Kennedy, Obama believes that government service should be compulsory instead of voluntary. Ever more confiscatory taxation would fund all sorts of programs and projects for the greater good. Indeed, Obama's latest proposed income tax increase on “the wealthiest” Americans would reduce the tax deduction for charitable giving. His proposal would thus likely produce a decrease in charitable contributions. Instead of inspiring charity, government would supplant charity.
Not only is Obama departing from Kennedy and Reagan, but even from Bill Clinton, who claimed in one of his State of the Union Addresses that “the Era of Big Government is over.” Apparently, Clinton was wrong.
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