By SHERMAN FREDERICK
“Hell is a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement and where everyone has a grievance.”
— C.S. Lewis
As modern society strives toward the so-called “progressive” version of nirvana — every perceived wrong made right, every bruise healed and every hurt feeling soothed — future citizens risk losing pieces of the heritage that makes America great.
It’s an inherited national character that includes attributes like self-reliance, grit, the willingness — and the joy — of sacrifice, the perseverance to overcome adversity and the drive to achieve greatness.
To judge by the political rhetoric of the day, however, American leaders have no use in selling these values. Although I don’t think all leaders have personally given up on the ideals themselves, they’ve calculated that amid the campaign rigors of modern politics, it just doesn’t pay to talk much about hardship and the American spirit.
Instead, we get encouragement to take the easy way out — find the government-provided shortcut — dressed up in poll-tested words that make it sound like righteous justice for mythical societal oppression. The American message too often sounds like this: When times get tough, why worry? Rest easy. It’s not your fault, and the government is here to make it all better.
We’re fast becoming a society of excuse makers, welfare takers and disability fakers — all enabled by politicians trying to buy your vote with just a bit more government dependence.
To illustrate how far we’ve gone down that path, imagine a presidential candidate boldly scolding Americans to get off their hind ends, stop looking for handouts and better themselves?
A couple of generations ago, John F. Kennedy told Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
If JFK delivered a line like that to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., last month, it would have been met with stunned silence. MSNBC commentators probably would have called him a racist.
And that’s the mild — but memorable — line from that speech. His entire speech in 1961 included this:
“Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”
For that sentiment, he would have been booed off the stage. Remember, the leaders of the Democratic Party this year couldn’t come up with a two-thirds vote to mention “God” in the party platform. They certainly would not take kindly to a statement about rights not coming from the “generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”
Certainly, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have the right stuff to call the nation to discipline and accountability.
Romney gets it from the hard knocks of business and his Mormon upbringing. The glory of work is as part of him as any. Obama gets it from knowing what it is like to be on the outside looking in. He knows from his own experience that hard work is more important to success than government-rigged opportunity.
But they generally don’t talk about the daily grind. And that’s a shame. People do need a lift now and again. But not dependency. Truth is, there is no government shortcut to a good education or to meaningful citizenship, or even to happiness.
What the country really needs to hear now is what JFK talked about in 1961: a call to Americans to remember that our greatness depends upon us, not in what our government can give us.
Let’s stop selling the free stuff and start lifting up hard work, sacrifice and service to others.
Sherman Frederick is former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and former editor of the Tribune-Herald.