As I listened to celebration of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address today, I thought about the most famous line of the speech: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” The second half of that line has inspired people across the ideological spectrum to serve America, whether in the armed forces, through private charity, or via political and civic involvement. But, I wondered, why isn’t there more focus on the first half of that line, which urges Americans to abandon a sense of entitlement?
Why do liberals, who acclaim JFK and his famous line, nonetheless advocate for an ever increasing list of government-provided entitlements, ranging from ObamaCare and green energy subsidies to lifetime tenure for public school teachers and government preferences for minorities and women? Likewise, why have conservatives and libertarians failed to remind their fellow Americans that the modern, entitlement-driven welfare state is the antithesis of Kennedy’s call to “ask not what your country can do for you”? Fifty years after JFK’s inauguration, it’s time to take that call seriously.