I grew up a Democrat, and although my party affiliations have since changed (and may change back given the stupidity shown by the current GOP leadership) certain Democratic ideals and icons still resonate me with. Sure John F. Kennedy cheated on his wife and wasn’t very effective at getting his legislation passed in Congress, but he did inspire generations of people who came after him. He promised to go to the moon by the end of the 1960’s, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” He stood at the erection of the Berlin Wall, saying “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”” just as Reagan would stand a generation later shortly before it’s destruction saying “President Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
Growing up in our modest home that my Depression era parents purchased with 90% down (because they feared debt in a way later generations cannot yet fathom), I remember a heavy wrought iron plaque of JFK mixed in with paintings of the Blessed Virgin and Sacred Heart, emblazoned with the words “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” It’s a statement that I know so well I didn’t need to look it up. It’s ingrained in my memory and the memories of many, which shouldn’t be surprising since Kennedy’s Inauguration Speech is considered one of the greatest speeches in American history. It’s not as memorable or brief as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, nor is it as important to our history as the vision laid out in Washington’s Farewell Address, but that single sentence alone catapults it into the pantheon of important and inspiring words for lovers of liberty to know by heart.
I think about Kennedy’s words a lot these days. They came to mind on Friday evening when the Wife was home late from the office after filling out paperwork for some of her Medicaid patients. She has a whole slew of patients who are grossly (in every sense of the word) obese, depressed and on public assistance. She being the liberal care-giver she is does her best to help these people, but she cannot say to them what they truly need to hear: that nearly all of their problems would be solved if they lost weight and got off the taxpayer’s dime.
We did not evolve to become the fat couple I saw at Wal-mart Saturday night: the 400+ lb wife in a scooter-cart being filled by her 300 lb husband. Now I am by no means a food nazi; if you want to drink a gallon of Pepsi flavored with high fructose corn syrup everyday until your toes fall off, then knock yourself out – that is, as long as you’re not on public assistance. If you are, then guess what? People like me have a right to what you shove into your pie hole.
If you weigh over 300 lbs and aren’t a Sumo wrestler, a linebacker or over 7 feet tall, you’ve got a problem. A weight problem. No amount of anti-depressants that doctors like my wife prescribe is going to make you happy; no windfall from the Federal Government will ever be enough to make you feel good about yourself. We evolved in the African savannah and prospered in Asia, Europe and the Americas because we could move and fend for ourselves. Spear a mammoth and running it down with your buddies provided immense personal satisfaction. Finding a hidden supply of food in the forest and giving it to your kids went a long way to chase away the blues. Our Pleistocene ancestors didn’t have paxil, klonopin, or xanax. They moved their bodies. They walked, ran, lifted, hefted, jumped, threw, stooped, crawled, jogged, swam, and swung. They were highly motivated: If they didn’t something ate them.
When I watched the fat guy waddle down the aisle and knock a box of powdered donuts into his wife’s scooter-cart with a laugh and what appeared to me to be some type of satisfaction over his athletic prowess, I didn’t feel the pity that my wife feels for her obese patients. I felt anger. It’s not a secret that sugar soft drinks and sweets make it easy to pack on the pounds, and it’s not Wal-Mart’s job to keep the junk off the shelves. You can become as fat as you want, but don’t expect to be happy. Nothing my wife prescribes will do more than take the edge off your sadness and self-hatred. And here’s where Kennedy comes back into my screed.
Kennedy saw the wisdom of service. He didn’t say the reverse, “Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you.” This is exactly what the Democratic Party has evolved into and one of the reasons I left it. We as free human beings are not meant to be served, we are meant to serve. It’s healthier to think about and fulfill the needs of others than it is to focus on one’s own self, a fact lost in today’s narcissistic culture. I still remember the day I truly became an adult. It was the day that I accepted I was going to become a father. Prior to that day my life had been about me; after it my life revolved around my child and the family that supported him. After that everything became different; I saw the world in a completely new way and was a better man for it. Thinking about others and doing for others won’t cure all of one’s ills, but it’s a start. Given studies have shown antidepressants to be only slightly better than placebos at best and sometimes make depression worse for some, building a life focused on service is a cheap way to fight depression and anxiety.
Notice how Kennedy did not use the word government either. He didn’t say, “Ask what you can do for your government.” Since taking over the White House the Democratic Party has worked overtime to equate the two in our minds, labeling Tea Party supporters and others opposed to the current regime as racist, extremist or unpatriotic. It’s not much different from what the Bush White House and the GOP did for those opposed to the war in Iraq, so both parties will wrap themselves in the mantle of “country” if we let them.
But America is bigger than our government and Kennedy knew it. America is a country that doesn’t exclude anyone. It transcends any divide that we throw at it. Gays or Straights? Americans. Muslims or Jews? Americans. Tobacco-spitting Rednecks or Arugula Eating Vegans? Americans. He wasn’t asking for each of us to serve our government, or our particular social group. He was asking us to serve America, to act and make our country with all its diversity and differences better. Action. Movement. Doing these it’s hard to be fat, but doing nothing, sitting back and waiting for the government to give us “free s**t” will deaden our souls.
I truly believe our nation under the Democrats has lost its way. John F. Kennedy was a Democrat yet his message today transcends both parties. Asking what one can do for one’s country sounds positively subversive these days when we don’t equate “country” with “government”. Such statements are only found among Tea Partiers, and both parties loath them. After all the GOP has not tasked us to act to make America better; they’re just looking to switch out the Democrats in Washington DC and get the same perks the current administration has.
But we Americans can do better than that. We can serve one another with a spirit that Kennedy believed when he said those words and Americans of all political stripes can share. We just need to get off our butts and move. For years we’ve grown flabby; it’s time we acted.