Home > Uncategorized > Not My Ox, Yours!

Not My Ox, Yours!


The Common Weal in America Has Run Dry?

By Stuart H. Brody

Comments of Stu Brody to Empire Page Roundtable  October 2009.

The question posed to this Roundtable is whether Americans should willingly pay for public benefits of which they will never partake.  In my mind most striking aspect of this question is that it needs be asked at all.  Not that a democratic people shouldn’t debate the role of their commitments to the nation’s collective well being, but that the debate in modern America has taken such a narrow and selfish turn. 

Our very founding and survival was built on enormous compromises to serve union and freedom, even if particular interests were ill served in the short run.   We can point to the Golden Age of the Senate when Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser, and others, stitched together complex regional accommodations to keep the nation together—and allow it to grow—forestalling war for thirty years.

We have a history of sharing the privileges and bounty of our rich nation freely in order to expand prosperity.   DeToqueville marveled at what he termed our volunteerism and boosterism.  Still, today, you can hardly visit an American town or county that does not boast large community service calendars and festivals for public entertainment and community promotion.

We are also a massively generous people–by far the highest per capita contributors to charity in the world, notwithstanding our collective skepticism about forking over tax money each April.

I believe, that deep down, most people hold as one of the blessed privileges of freedom, the free partaking of the grandeur that our wealth has produced. 

The parks of our great cities and our great public monuments and museums offered the world weary urban poor a moment of tranquility in which to nurture their dreams, dreams which, by God’s grace, were realized by so many.

Walking in a national forest, as others have commented, imparts a power of belonging that is unmatched, and diminished, if you have to pay for it.

Yet we live now in a time of stinginess.  From Congress with its earmarks, to Wall Street with its bonuses, the rule of the day is “take the money and run” before anyone catches up with you.

Just weeks ago, Senator John Kyle from Arizona actually complained in a Senate Committee debate on health care that he was required to pay for a health care policy that included maternity benefits since he would never use them.

In our own state, the best plans to fund the  MTA which fuels our most potent economic machine—the City of New York—fell victim to the narrowest of selfish interests in our legislature.

Like a family bitterly divided over a contested will, in America, the bonds of common devotion have been loosened by fierce and mindless emotion, and often it’s our politicians leading this desperate movement.  Too many cloak narrow interests with passionate rhetoric while subjecting anyone who disagrees with them to intemperate and often vile denunciation. 

How can such men and women summon the grace and generosity to provide for the general welfare and inspire others to achieve what Jefferson called the most noble ambition of free men:  pursuing individual happiness while contributing to the collective well being.

Perhaps they can learn something of public courage from Supervisor Mary Ellen Keith of tiny Franklin, New York who was voted out of office twenty years ago for spending the last remaining federal revenue sharing funds to purchase land for a park, instead of putting it in to the General Fund, because she wanted “something lasting.” 

Now, in her eighties, and freshly returned to office, she spends every summer morning making 100 sandwiches for the sons and daughters of her electors, grateful for her foresight.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: