Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You…Obama Edition

Nancy LaTourneau has penned an open letter to President Obama. She begins with an observation about how most politicians talk to voters:

What I heard most from politicians who were running for office was what they could do for me. That message made me feel like a victim rather than a participant. And so I’d always tune it out and move on.

This reaction would shock the many politicians who believe that they must always present themselves as a cross between a streetwalker and the guy behind the counter at McDonald’s. There is an alternative stance to take towards the public, and Nancy found it in Barack Obama’s 2012 Democratic Convention speech:

We, the people, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That’s what we believe.

Nancy reacted positively to Obama’s faith in the people of this country and his call for them to be of service rather than simply be service recipients of the political class. Her whole letter is worth a read.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.