Thursday, January 20, 2011

Saving the rich?

It is the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of Pres. John F. Kennedy. Everyone remembers the injunction “ask not what your country can do for you...” in his Inaugural Speech. Very few people remember the line “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

That sentence came in the context of a pledge that America would help poor nations elsewhere. But in the light of our more recent history, the thought sheds a bitter light on what America has become. After the meltdown of 2007 and 2008, the government bailed out the big banks and financial institutions that caused the economy to crash. I saved the very few who are rich.

At the same time, efforts to create more jobs or to support the unemployed have been lukewarm and ineffective. I did little to help the poor.

It is not as if there weren’t a lot of work to do in our country. Our schools are under-staffed. Millions of elderly could use someone to come and visit, to watch TV with them or read the newspaper to them. Physically limited people could use help getting out, going shopping or going to the movies. Single mothers with children could use help and some time off from mothering and their work. Libraries are understaffed. Injured veterans could lose a great deal more attention. There is lots of work to do.

But somehow the nation has persuaded itself that poverty, disease, old age and disabilities do not concern the rest of us. “America is business is business” as Calvin Coolidge said and all that matters is that our big banks -- those that are too big to fail -- make money once again.

Contrary to Pres. Kennedy’s prediction, our society has saved the few who are rich and made little effort to help those who are poor.

But Pres. Kennedy was talking about “a free society.” Perhaps in saving the few who are rich without helping the many who are poor we we have done serious damage to our freedoms.