Tuesday, February 28, 2012

That Old-time Personal Responsibility

“ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

--John Kennedy

It’s Lent. Jeffrey Kluger, writing in secular-liberal TIME, has some surprisingly positive things to say about this religious season. Noting that religions “can be very healthy,” Kluger suggests that Lent (along with similar seasons in other religions) is about practicing self-control, something he says science is beginning to prove is good for us. Kluger:
Willpower . . . is . . . cultivatable. . . a sort of psychic muscle, one that can atrophy or grow stronger depending on how it’s used. . . behavioral psychologists generally think of willpower as . . . the more you practice it to control one behavior — say, overeating — the more it starts to apply itself to other parts of your life like exercising more or drinking less. . .

conscious adherence and regular practice is precisely the reason religious observances that prescribe strict rituals of self-denial can be so powerful. Every time an observer of Lent craves — and resists the lure of — a forbidden indulgence is a tiny reminder of a commitment made.
The self-discipline Lent encourages is at the core of personal responsibility, people taking charge of their lives. Personal responsibility. It’s Democrat Franklin Roosevelt exalting work as the way to “earn a decent livelihood for ourselves and for our families.” It’s Democrat John Kennedy telling us to give to our nation, not take from it. It’s Bill Clinton, as the recent Clinton “American Experience” show reminded me, advancing the “New Democrat” Democratic Leadership Council philosophy:
We believe in . . . individual responsibility, tolerance of difference, the imperative of work, the need for faith, and the importance of family. . . American citizenship entails responsibility as well as rights
Democrats used to get it. They used to address America’s working class, the heart of their constituency. But that was then.

This is now. Today’s Democrats believe in the “Colorado Strategy,” which marries our knowledge economy’s upper caste (including aspirational, university-connected youth) to the big-government dependency constituencies of minorities and unmarried women.

The upper class has in effect abandoned the “working class” (in quotes because so many no longer work), evidenced by, as Charles Murray writes, its attitude of "condescending ‘nonjudgmentalism.’” Married, educated elite couples that work hard and conscientiously raise their kids no longer advocate that lower class families do the same to lift themselves up. Why has this happened?

Reed Galen is a California-based Republican political strategist. He tells us:
The messages that President Obama and his re-election campaign officials espouse -- that the system is “unfair” that the playing field must be “leveled” -- are code words for letting Americans off the hook. . . But a citizenry that expects -- even demands -- its government to provide happiness is surely bound to end up unhappy with their lives and with their government.

The Democratic message . . . neither requires nor expects anything from citizens. It doesn’t want anything from them other than lemming-like acquiescence. . .What the president and his surrogates should be speaking about is opportunity. [But t]he last thing [Democrats] want is to encourage individual initiative; that would begin to abrogate the need for Uncle Sam to . . . say everything is going to be all right if we have just a little more taxation, a little more debt, a little more government.
If the party of Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Clinton is going to abandon the old-time religion of personal responsibility, then, Galen says, Republicans in their place
should try to articulate what Thomas Jefferson really meant. If you [want happiness,] you are going to have to take the initiative to make that happen. That is inherently American. This ethos doesn’t excuse leaving the most vulnerable among us out in the cold. [But the rest] of us [should] get up every morning and figure out how we’re going to improve our situation -- because in many cases that’s the only thing we can control.

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