By FARAH STOCKMAN
New York Times News Service
Last week, a reader — I’ll call him Hal — called to talk about the turmoil in the Middle East.
“I’m on deadline,” I said. “Can I call you back?” Then the turmoil spread. More people died. Work piled up. Forty-eight hours later, Hal left me a scathing message for failing to call him back right away.
So I called Hal. He apologized. He said he just wanted to talk about my recent column in which I suggested that the private citizen who posted an anti-Islamic video on YouTube should be held accountable for the reaction around the world.
“I don’t want anybody anywhere to stop me from saying whatever I want,” Hal explained. Then he went on to blame President Obama for not preventing the violence: “It was a failure of leadership,” he said.
Hal, I’m sure you’re a good person. You reached out to me, and I appreciate that. But you really ticked me off. Maybe it’s that you felt entitled to my immediate attention. Maybe it’s that you found it so easy to blame the president rather than call on fellow citizens to exercise their freedom more wisely.
Actually, Hal, it’s not you at all. It’s what’s wrong with our entire generation. We want to do whatever we want whenever we want to, and when it goes awry, it’s somebody else’s fault.
We want all the freedoms, with none of the responsibilities. We don’t want to join the military or pay taxes or even be told to refrain from posting idiotic videos on YouTube. We sucked the equity out of our homes and took out irresponsible loans, and when it all went wrong, we got outraged that the government let us do it.
We expect more and more, faster and faster. Our pursuit of happiness has morphed into our demand for instant gratification. We are the customer, and the customer is always right.
The American voter demands to be served, without giving any service back. We want our problems fixed tomorrow. No excuses. We don’t want any talk-back from the guy behind the counter.
During the Great Depression, when unemployment soared to 25 percent, it took our grandparents many months — if not years — to start blaming Herbert Hoover. It only took us a few hours after the crash in 2008 to start blaming Bush.
Now the stock market has rebounded, and unemployment is at 8.1 percent. It was 7.8 when Obama took office. But we are still complaining to our flat screen TVs that the 96,000 new jobs added in August weren’t as many as we expected.
“It’s too slow, Obama,” we shout, as if he’s a butler who hasn’t served dinner fast enough.
Sure, citizens must hold their leaders accountable. But when did we start expecting magical outcomes from our president, while refusing to accept one iota of responsibility ourselves?
Even Republicans — the party of personal responsibility — blame Obama for everything from high gas prices to low birthrates to the turmoil in the Middle East. If you’re for limited government, shouldn’t you acknowledge that the government has limits?
The people who made America great knew about personal responsibility. They suffered incredible hardships, world wars. They didn’t expect quick success.
Young people today have never experienced the draft. Never known a time in which America wasn’t the sole superpower. Yet we teach them that it is their God-given right to lead the world. But how many of us take responsibility to learn about the world we feel so entitled to be in charge of? How many of us master a foreign language? Or read up on another culture?
Unless we private citizens start taking responsibility for that American greatness we talk so much about, we’re not going to enjoy it much longer. And when we lose it, it won’t do any good to blame the president. And it won’t do any good to leave angry voice mail messages complaining that our needs aren’t being attended to quickly enough. Sorry, Hal. You probably don’t deserve this tirade. But I have the freedom to say whatever I want, remember?
Farah Stockman is a columnist for the Boston Globe.