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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Feb 2016
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In 2012, Are We Americans Citizens or Consumers?


In 2007, my friend and colleague on "PBS NewsHour," Jim Lehrer, interviewed President George W. Bush and asked the following question about the U.S. wars then being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan: "Why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and more American interests to sacrifice something? The people who are now sacrificing are, you know, the Army and the U.S. Marines and their families. They're the only ones who are actually sacrificing anything at this point."

President Bush's answer — "Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we've got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of the war" — lacks the inspiring eloquence of Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill, but let's be blunt, he is not the only president of this decade to fail to summon his countrymen to selfless patriotism. Unless I missed it, President Barack Obama has been mute on the matter of asking us to make individual and collective sacrifice in behalf of the nation's common good.

Make no mistake, our values have changed. In the words of one of the first group of Peace Corps volunteers, some half-century ago: "I'd never done anything political, patriotic or unselfish because nobody ever asked me to. President Kennedy asked us that day (51 years ago), and we are still saying 'yes.'"

Contrast that with the argument of the House majority whip, a Republican, to a Washington, D.C., bankers meeting on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, just days before 2nd Lt. Therrel Shane Childers of Harrison County, Miss., would become the first of 4,486, and counting, Americans to die in that conflict: "Nothing is more important in the face of war than cutting taxes."

Let's be blunt.

America today, despite all the lip-service we pay to the men and women in the military, devalues individual sacrifice for the common good. We no longer treat each other — or insist upon being treated ourselves — as citizens with reciprocal obligations to each other and to our country, but instead as consumers who insist upon getting the best deal for ourselves.

As somebody smarter than I observed about our contemporary politics: "Americans vote to send Democrats to Washington to make sure they get for themselves all the federal goodies and entitlements the Treasury can provide. Then these same voters send Republicans to Washington to make sure that they, the voters, will not have to pay for those federal goodies."

Got a federal debt that is out-of-control and threatening the nation's future? The Democrats, led by President Obama, promise that your taxes will never rise if you belong to the 98 percent of U.S. households that earn less than $250,000 a year. The only Americans asked to pay some price or to bear some burden in order to rehabilitate the nation's solvency would be the richest 2 percent.

The front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is a tax-cut-and-spend Republican who tells us "consumers" that his policies will enable the country to "grow" its way out of the debt mess. Sort of a "what's good for the country club is good for the country" approach.

Isn't it time that we demanded that those who seek to lead the nation treat us not like consumers on the prowl for something for nothing, but as citizens who recognize that we have, in addition to rights and privileges, real obligations and responsibilities?

We know that in America war requires equality of sacrifice. But so, too, does American citizenship.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




5 Comments | Post Comment
Much is good here, but invoking Kennedy is a liberal joke these days, Let's face it, Kennedy's great words have been changed to "Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what birth control and other goodies your country can buy for you." It's the democratic way, and anybody who doesn't like it is an evangelical homophobic rascist.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Tom
Fri Mar 16, 2012 2:50 AM
Tom, did you ever spend one minute thinking about the "unfairness" of having to pay for someone else's birth control before Rush told you it was unfair? Archie Bunker's fellow travelers used to complain that it was unfair for the government to not FORCE welfare recipients to use birth control.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Kimiko
Fri Mar 16, 2012 3:03 PM
Kimiko; did you ever think it was unfair for people to have to pay taxes for war or for capital punishment??? We would have democracy if those who benefitted most from some government actions were the ones who would pay for it... I may get little benefit from the road outside my house, do as well with a two track, and pay the most for it... Benefit should be estimated by those who must pay for it, and if they do not like it, then don't agree to pay for it... There will always be some who will never vote for taxation, and expect the benefits of society without the cost, and they can be fined, or otherwise brought to see the benefit of mutual association...
When it comes to asking people to sacrifice, and people have already been sacrificing for this country since, and long before the second world war...But especially since World War II, usually for some fruitless adventure on behalf of the rich, and more than that, many have suffered insinuation for the very act of asking for rights... There is no member of organized labor who did not have to wear the label of communism, when- it was through the sacrifices of labor, of rights, conditions, and fair wages that capitalism was able to beat communism... Not one rich person has given so much in proportion to defeat communism as even the meanest working person; and why, when communism as an idea is not OUR enemy, but is the enemy of the rich...
So; to have a war that is little more than a trick bag into which Americans will pour their money only to have air fall out; Mr. Bush did not demand sacrifice, or even suggest it... The better part of society, and by that I mean the best educated and intelligent saw war in Afghanistan as pointless, and unlikely of success... If people were asked to buy the war up front, the poor would have felt the bottoms of their empty pockets and refused... The rich would have counted their money and refused... The greatest patriots are profiteers, and they won the day promising war would pay for itself as no war has ever done, and out of their understanding the full faith and credit clause...They can afford defeat, and it pays them as much as victory...
The American People, sensing their decline, knowing they have won their last war, would realize that democracy is all about defense, and that defense IS victory- would have marshalled their resources and saved their loot...When the republicans ask the poor to give up ever more in taxes, to suffer ever less of entitlements, who see in their paychecks the long awaited want of justice are asked to sell the future of their children for the illusion of empire abroad, they dare not ask them for more...We have sacrificed to see the rich richer... We have sacrificed for jobs pulled out from under us like a rug...We have seen them export our jobs to the communists and import our commodities from the communists, borrowed from the communists to pay for their want of income, and call the president a communist for asking the minimum of decent abuse for us on our behalf...
WE have sacrificed enough... Nothing has so determined the ultimate course of injustice in this land as much as tax policy... Ther rich are not paying a fraction of what they were before the first world war, and that war made many millionaires...The working people pay a much greater share of the support of government and have much less say in their own affairs than ever before...
Let the people decide... How much is war costing each one of us??? Scratch it off the list... How much is law enforcement and prisons costing this people??? Scratch it off the list... How much is capital punishment costing this people??? Scratch it off the list...How much is public health costing the nation, and can we afford to scratch it, and is it possible for the people to decide with the facts in front of them in great bold graphs... Perhaps we cannot live without an army, or a prison, but just how much do we need???
Some things the people find immoral- their country should not do, and if a majority decides they want to do the immoral, then let them sign the check...It is reasonable to expect that what no person can morally do, no nation can morally do... Morality is not made by majorities... Morality can be unmade by minorities given the power... The power of government over its own finances should end... Let government propose spending and the people dispose of spending...We need democracy to have justice... We need democracy to have morality because many will witness injustice without choice who will, not with a choice, pay to see it...
The people have better sense than their government, and it is because those who seek control of the government have their own goals apart from the true goal of every government in Good...For the rich, government is a means, and to everyone else, government is the end... If we need government to maintain order, and to achieve justice then we see that the use of government to procure profit is contrary to every measure of good sense... Let the people decide what they will buy...I am certain that a good society would ask little of sacrifice, and then equally... We cannot live without good government, and we must take it out of the hands of those who use it for their own ends, and stink up the thing...Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #3
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Mar 17, 2012 8:22 AM
Sweeney, such a pleasure to read common sense pointing out nonsense. I join my voice with yours in agreement.
Comment: #4
Posted by: demecra zydeem
Sat Mar 17, 2012 10:38 AM
The answer seems very simple then doesn't it. Why do we not raise everyones taxes. It is very easy to be in favor of spending you do not have to pay for. Perhaps if everyone had more skin in the game, there would be more of an interest in cutting government spending. If I can vote to give myself a car, and also vote to have my neighbor pay for it, I would have a new car every year. People tend to do what is in their own best interest. We need to make it in their best interest to save money, not spend their neighbor's money.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Ethan Roninson
Wed Mar 21, 2012 11:34 AM
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