Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Land of the Free

On September 3, 1814, Francis Scott Key was temporarily held prisoner by the British during the Battle of Fort McHenry, one of those fought as part of the ill-fated War of 1812. While being held, he penned a poem called "Defense of Fort McHenry", which later became lyrics that were set to the melody of a British drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven". The result thereby achieved became "The Star Spangled Banner". Though the ending of the third stanza was not actually the end of the poem or the song, it has become the end as we now sing it: "O'er the Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave". Almost 196 years has passed since the original poem was penned, and 79 have passed since it became our national anthem by Congressional resolution. 

Forgive me for thinking so, but it also certainly seems as though the first part of this phrase has come to mean something entirely different in recent years. It sometimes appears these days in fact, that the "Land of the Free" means little more to most than a requirement for government to hand out free money to some of its citizens. People no longer seem to hope for such assistance after all other efforts of their own have failed, but expect it before such effort has been expended, and in fact demand it as their due. While many trace the origin of this mentality back to FDR's "New Deal", I would say instead that it can be linked more to the "War on Poverty" introduced by then President Lyndon B Johnson in his 1964 State of the Union speech.

Forty-six years later, few if any wars in this country's history can be said to have gone on so long, gone through so much money, and won so few battles. Instead of victory, the bitter stalemate we seem to have settled for is an entitlement mentality and an expectation that it is the duty of government to provide equal outcomes to its citizens rather than equal opportunities. 

A most recent example can be found in the fights and stampedes we saw occurring in Atlanta when more than 30,000 people showed up looking for federal housing assistance and were disappointed in what they received. Many were not looking for available programs or applications, but instead were expecting to receive checks for little more than the effort of standing in line. 

This is not the only free money demanded of our government these days however, but only the latest item added to a list that includes: welfare, aid to dependent children, disability payments from government run Social Security, and of course retirement payments from that same program. And while money is taken in the form of taxes from its citizens to meet these obligations (some more than others), all seem to feel entitled to payments far beyond any money individually contributed. After all, its just government money. 

Health care reform seems destined to add to the list of these benefits and its financial burden. While promises have already been made for increased access to service and similar increases to preventive care, our government cannot adequately explain how any of this will be paid for and continues to tread a path spiraling into increasing expectation exceeded only by the debt that such presumption engenders. 

This does not mean that helping our fellow man is bad, but that getting government involved in the process turns such aid into a bureaucratic monstrosity, into panhandling, and into rampant fraud. It is charity for individuals to give to the needs of others out of their own generosity. It is armed robbery for the government to take from some under threat of imprisonment, only to give to others in little more than wealth redistribution. 

This is not the freedom that our Founding Fathers envisioned when breaking from the British crown in 1776 in the Declaration of Independence and codifying later in the Constitution. Nor is it that which Mr Key watched men fight and die for while being held on two separate British ships (the HMS Surprise and the HMS Minden) during the battle. Certainly it is far from a true representation of the American Dream. If there is one truth that can be agreed on in fact, it is that "there is no such thing as a free lunch"

Ultimately there is a price to be paid for everything, and the only choice available is who will pick up the tab. Once that hard and terrible truth is understood, it should be likewise simple to understand that the only way to return to freedom is to somehow find a way to make the citizens of this country understand that being the Land of the Free does not involve what the lyric from a much more recent song states. Despite what Dire Straits lead singer Mark Knopfler sings to us, we cannot get "money for nothing".


Roland Hansen said...

All too often, Americans have their hands out, reaching for a hand-out. This is true of individuals and of small businesses and of large corporations. It seems each say the other shouldn't get financial assistance from "the government" and meanwhile fall short on applying that same notion to its own group.
I say to all: "Look in the mirror."

p.s. While I have ridden the light fantastic, I am still looking for those "thousand points of light."

Tim Higgins said...


I didn't deal with the corporate mentality of this, but it was much on my mind in the beginning. You are exactly right to draw attention to everything from the money that GE gets for alternative energy to cash paid to farmers not to grow certain crops in order to prop up the market price.

As for the growth of "green jobs" in this country, one cannot help but wonder whether any of it would be going on without taxpayer cash to back it up.

mud_rake said...

May I suggest the book, Free Lunch, by David Cay Johnston, for an in-depth look at another aspect of the so-called 'free-lunch' scenario?

Mr. Johnston focuses the search for free lunches on corporate CEO's and politicians rather than the peons of society.

That area is where the 'free lunches' cost the tax payers billions, not mere millions