By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 06/10/12
When John F. Kennedy made the now seminal statement, “Ask not
what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” a
responsive chord was struck with Americans of all political persuasions. It
rang true with us. For we have always been a nation of givers, helpers,
producers, and doers. But the aphorism seems of less relevance now, as increasingly
we’re a nation of takers; getting as much as we can personally from our
neighbors who are producers, through government redistribution tactics, without
regard to fiscal soundness or the inevitable ultimate consequences.
Whether it’s those on the growing poverty rolls voting for candidates
who they think will give them more, or ideologically aligned groups of voters
seeking aggrandizement and benefits beyond what the average American enjoys,
the trend seems to be increasingly, “Ask not what you can do for your country,
but ask what your country (or politician) can do for you.”
It’s certainly too soon to tell with certitude, but this
could possibly be one component to the retention of Scott Walker as Wisconsin
governor. Because it wasn’t an isolated case, as the cities of San Jose and San
Diego had historic elections this week granting city leaders more flexibility
in reducing presumed entitlements of their unionized employees.
Ben Franklin is attributed the quote, “When the people find
that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”
A certain class of politicians has preyed on income disparity, victimhood, and
class envy as a means of eliciting support from those constituents on the
premise that they are their champions, that the “victims” were entitled to more
of what the producers in our society had, and that they, the politicians, would
rectify the “unfairness.”
Public employee unions have perfected the mechanics of that
process. They provide essential services that we all benefit from and need.
Their union dues buy political influence by supporting and electing public
officials of like mind. Yet those bought-and-paid-for public officials, when sitting
in on contract negotiations, end up representing those who bought their
position for them, rather than the taxpayer who funds it. Consequently, as was
the case in Wisconsin, public employees were earning salaries and benefits up
to 50% higher than similar private sector jobs, with little personal contribution
to pension and health care benefits.
As the brilliant economist Thomas Sowell has illustrated, “A ‘safety net’ can easily become a hammock.
‘Social justice’ can easily become class warfare that polarizes a nation, while
leading those at the bottom into the blind alley of resentments, no matter how
many broad avenues of achievement may be available to them.” While the unions’
safety net differs markedly, the principle is the same. In some places, it has
become a hammock.
Long gone, in places
like Wisconsin, San Diego and San Jose, is the concept of being a civil servant.
The levels of expectation and entitlement have lavished salaries and benefits
on the sector that dwarf private industry. The votes this week serve, at least
as a temporary reminder, that government employees work for us, the citizens
and taxpayers, not the other way around. As long as we pay their salaries, fund
their pensions, and pay their health care costs, they’re our employees.
The National Review said of the Wisconsin recall election, “Walker
won because he represented the taxpayer, while his opponent represented the
groups whose livelihoods depend on bilking the taxpayer. Milwaukee mayor Tom
Barrett served as less of an alternative than a vessel for Big Labor's unmoored
wrath. ... And, most of all, Scott Walker saved his job by being the adult in
The tactics employed by those who adhere to the entitlement
mentality are unremarkably the same, whether utilized by the Occupy Wall Street
folks or the public service unions. The Wall Street Journal reminded us this
week of what those in Wisconsin did. “They occupied the state capital for
weeks. They harassed GOP lawmakers and their families, tried to recall state
Senators and defeat a conservative Supreme Court judge, while Democrat
lawmakers abdicated their legislative duty by fleeing the state.”
The politics of victimhood and self-interest preys upon the
most fundamental of emotions. Regrettably when such is the preoccupation with
the political process, other logical priorities, like feasibility and
sustainability, are relegated to subordinated status. The future viability of a
community, a state, and a nation, are thereby jeopardized, while “kicking the
can” down the road to future generations to pay the costs.
The lessons for voters, elected officials, and public
employees are many from this week’s historically significant elections. Let’s
hope the country is now prepared to follow Wisconsin’s lead with a taxpayer
renaissance, with sustainability and feasibility as top-tier priorities,
supplanting self-interest and personal aggrandizement.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is
President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in
Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political
Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial
Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.