A little over 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy took office. Most folks reading this won’t remember that and may not even know who he was.
After all, he didn’t live very long afterwards. He was the President who, as leader of the Western world in his time, helped usher in the new day of civil rights, the new post-WWII Cold War, and the great adventure to where no man had ever gone before.
He understood his role as shepherd, and that, though he must and did lead, the ground was already moving beneath his feet. So, in his inaugural address to the nation, he gave that famous command: “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.”
It was those lofty and heady times that I lamented upon reading a letter to the editor. The letter berated local car sellers for displaying highway mpg rather than city mpg in their advertisements. Actually, that part didn’t raise an eyebrow, because, if that is misleading (and the writer certainly was not misled), then I just marked it up to one more little bump in the road of life.
The part of the letter that got my ire was the demand that the Guam Legislature “pass a law requiring that all vehicles’ mpg ads clearly state city mpg, and ban all highway mpg.” Frankly, at my age, I’m getting a little tired of the nanny mentality of people demanding laws of little moment, and no new effect. I fully endorse Senator Guthertz' endeavors to rid ourselves of useless and ineffective legislation from days gone by. One way to assist that process is to not add to the load.
There is already law in place on this subject that prevents misleading advertising (if that is what it is), but it means an actual citizen must step up to the plate and see that the wrong is righted. What this letter intends, and I don’t want to single this one out because it is only representative of the micro-criminalization infecting our mentality, is that we pass an additional law relieving us from doing something for ourselves and our island, and demand, instead, that the government do what we prefer not to do. We prefer to abdicate responsibility, not assume it. Or worse, we prefer to force others to do our work for us.
It is not just that this adds more and more laws to the books to keep track of as we dig deeper and deeper into passing laws to replace personal decision-making and responsibility, but that it sets us up to have our government let us down. It is simply impossible now for the government to meet its every day mandates. Every additional mandate we demand decreases government’s ability to do those basic things we already expect of it.
The more minutiae we demand of government, the more it is bound to fail, and the more we lose trust and confidence in those entrusted to help us along our merry way, the more we become alienated, grumpy and unhappy. It is just the opposite of the pursuit of happiness; it is the pursuit of our own tail.
I for one want my Legislature to be successful, so I want it to bite off what it can chew. It will not often take the exact bite I want, but it will then be able, at least, to show us that it can chew and swallow what it has bitten off. But how can you judge the effectiveness of the Legislature, or your kids, or anyone, if you keep stuffing them with responsibilities that they will never have time to prove they can handle? If we judge politicians by the laws they write rather than the wrongs they right, we are doomed.
I don’t want car dealers to misrepresent specifications to me any more than that letter writer does. But I have a remedy if they do, and I have an obligation to ignore it if I know better. And I don’t want more government overhead to do what I can do with my own legal rights. Or ignore. Life comes with small bumps and scrapes, and it takes something away from our communal strength when we stop everything and demand no more bumps and scrapes. A good nanny helps us deal with our bumps and scrapes with a spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down, not hover over us in an inevitable lost cause to prevent them.
After President Kennedy said, “ask not”, he added, “...let us go forth … knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.” Like President Reagan after him, President Kennedy made the point that the strength of our democracy is in the individual, not the government. When Kennedy was President it was a badge of honor to wear a plaster cast after breaking an arm on the playground. These days, it would be grounds for closing the grounds, suing the pants off the school, and keeping kids inside with video games. Please, let’s not ask for more nanny laws. They only beget more.