Frank Rich wants to know: “Who Killed the Disneyland Dream?” Link here.
It’s a bit too easy to say that Frank Rich himself belonged to the hit squad that brought down Disneyland. It’s like blaming a cheerleader for the football team’s bad season.
If Rich is neither the quarterback nor the coach, he is more than a cheerleader. Playing for team New York Times, Rich has exercised his considerable influence undermining the American, and the Disneyland, dream.
It’s more than unusually ironic, bordering on hypocritical, to see Frank Rich waxing nostalgic for the Eisenhower years. As Byron York pointed out, Rich into high dudgeon fifteen or so years ago when Newt Gingrich dared to say something positive about the ‘50s. Link here.
The young Frank Rich saw the ‘50s as a hotbed of injustice, oppression, and repression. The older Frank Rich sees the ‘50s as a time when people could get ahead by hard work, when they strove to improve themselves, and where a thriving middle class was still welcoming new members.
Strangely enough, Rich seems to have reached a conclusion that resembles my own. America has lost its work ethic.
In my, not his, view, the work ethic was a casualty of the ‘60s counterculture.
The counterculture was a full frontal assault on American values. It did not want to reform America by improving on its strengths while overcoming its weaknesses. It wanted to tear up the culture by its roots. Taking its cue from the radical leftist thinkers who were all the rage at the time, the counterculture saw America as an ongoing criminal enterprise whose successes that had been built on the backs of the underprivileged, the oppressed, and the disadvantaged.
To the counterculture “bourgeois” was a term of contempt. The Middle Class was colluding with the military-industrial elites to promote its program of colonialist, imperialistic, warmongering ... the better to oppress the world's people.
In books and movies, the Middle Class was also portrayed as a sham enterprise behind whose walls lay a cauldron of spousal abuse and child molestation.
While Rich waxes poetical about a child whose MMM slogan won his family a trip to Disneyland, let’s remember that our intellectual elites were up in arms about the organization men who kept the corrupt capitalist system humming.
Of course, politics also played a part in the cultural transformation. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and War on Poverty represented a massive expansion of government into the private markets. While some pieces of legislation were essential and long overdue-- the civil rights and voting rights acts-- many of the others were attempts to engineer social justice, to produce equality from the top down.
Yet, the best laid plans… oft go astray, and the law of unintended consequences often undermines our best intentions. You can declaim all you want for economic equality, but if your programs produce inequality, then you should have enough humility to recognize that they have failed.
If we date America’s decline from the post-Eisenhower years, then we must acknowledge that increased and expanded government must have played a large role.
When government interferes in the markets, when it chooses winners and losers, then people are likely to conclude that hard work is not very important.
As it happens, Frank Rich seems to believe that capitalism is at fault, as though the Great Society programs caused government’s control over private enterprise to diminish.
Changing the culture requires more than big ideas. You need to have an attractive face, a person whose life embodies the new values you are seeking to promote.
America was transformed from a can-do culture where hard work was rewarded and where people strove for greater success, into a decadent culture where pleasure trumped effort, and where everyone felt that they were entitled to a level of prosperity that they were unwilling to earn.
Whose face most closely embodies that cultural revolution? My candidate is John F. Kennedy. In my view he was the problem, not the solution. More so, considering that the nation continues to hold him in the highest esteem.
In the last election America thought that it was voting for someone who embodies the values of John F. Kennedy.
In fact, it was, but not in the way it thought.
As long as the country does not come to terms with its mindless idolatry of John Kennedy and its blind faith in the myths of Camelot, it will not get out of the predicament it is in.
For reasons that escape me entirely, most Americans still consider John Kennedy a great president. Besides getting us involved in Vietnam, making a mess of the Bay of Pigs, and provoking the Cuban Missile Crisis, John Kennedy accomplished very little during his brief time in office. Oh yes, he did lower taxes on the rich!
He brought a class of Harvard educated elites into the government, and these men, the best and the brightest, steered the nation into Vietnam, while he was alive and after his death.
Vietnam is a fundamental part of the Kennedy legacy.
John Kennedy may have promised, as Rich says: “… a New Frontier that would reclaim America’s heroic destiny, and do so with shared sacrifice and a renewed commitment to the lower-case democratic values central to both the American and Disneyland dreams,“ but that was not who John Kennedy was.
JFK did not earn his way. He did not work his way up from the bottom. He inherited wealth, and wore it as an entitlement. He was not especially qualified for the presidency when he ran, and won because he was charismatic.
The Kennedy clan has often been called a new American aristocracy. And the label fits. In their liberal politics they embody the values of noblesse oblige. But they also embody the values of entitlement.
Like titled aristocrats the Kennedy family received its wealth through inheritance, with a feeling of being entitled. With the exception of Joseph Kennedy, the family did not have to work for its wealth. The Kennedys did not get ahead by following a venerable work ethic. They did not have to earn it. They just received for winning a genetic lottery.
In the realm of concrete achievement, JFK had achieved more than Barack Obama at a comparable stage. Yet, he won the presidency even though he not a great legislator, a great statesman, a great diplomat, or a great general.
He was certainly not someone who earned his way to the top.It should not be too much of a surprise that the policies this liberal family has always supported value entitlement, not a work ethic, as a way of life.
JFK transformed the culture in another way. He lived at the intersection of politics with Hollywood celebrity. He embodied the values of fame, glamour, and celebrity. His father paved the way by having an affair with Gloria Swanson. Like father like son... JFK bedded Marilyn Monroe.
It also makes sense that JFK would have found celebrity culture so appealing. Who else but a Hollywood actor or a rock star would understand how ti felt to make so much money by working so little?
One of the major psychological issues for Hollywood stars is their feeling that they are being compensated out of all proportion to their work or their social value.
Isn’t that what it feels like to inherit extravagant wealth?
Many Hollywood celebrities work. Wall Street bankers and traders work very hard. But still, isn't there a gross disparity between how much they work, what they contribute to the common good, and how much they earn?
Keep in mind, that Wall Street is no longer a Republican club. It’s greatest earners were mostly staunch supporters of Barack Obama in the last election? Was it because they understood viscerally what if felt like to receive largesse out of all proportion to what you have earned?
If the meaning of your life is your feeling of being entitled, wouldn’t it make sense that you would want everyone to have similar feelings of entitlement? And wouldn’t it make sense for you to have no real interest in the good old work ethic. An entitlement culture makes you feel entitled, as though you have a title. It's a little like Disneyland where everyone can feel like a prince or a princess or a Kennedy.