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Friday, November 17, 2006

Ask not what your country ... just don't ask

I've never really been a Kennedy fan. It seemed the Kennedys had style, but not much substance. But there was that ability to turn a phrase. But in the NYT's obituary of Milton Friedman, we see that Friedman turned one of JFK's best known phrases inside-out in an interesting way:

"In 1962, Mr. Friedman took on President John F. Kennedy’s popular inaugural exhortation: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” In an introduction to his classic book “Capitalism and Freedom,” a collection of his writings and lectures, he said President Kennedy had got it wrong: You should ask neither.

“What your country can do for you,” Mr. Friedman said, implies that the government is the patron, the citizen the ward; and “what you can do for your country” assumes that the government is the master, the citizen the servant. Rather, he said, you should ask, “What I and my compatriots can do through government to help discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all protect our freedom.”