In his 1960 State of the Union address, President Dwight Eisenhower said this: “America did not become great through softness and self-indulgence. Her miraculous progress and achievements flow from other qualities far more worthy and substantial…a satisfaction in hard work.”
It’s hard to imagine our current president saying that. Democrats seem poised to present any discussion of “work ethic” as inherently racist, preferring to blame the so-called 1% for the decline of the middle class. According to them, Republicans bring up work ethic as a way to cast the unemployed as lazy and unmotivated.
This was the mindset of “Craig P.” when he wrote to Mike Rowe, the former host of Dirty Jobs. “Your constant harping on ‘work ethic’ is growing tiresome,” wrote Craig. “Just because someone’s poor doesn’t mean they’re lazy. The unemployed want to work! And many of those who can’t find work today didn’t have the benefit of growing up with parents like yours. How can you expect someone with no role model to qualify for one of your scholarships or sign your silly ‘Sweat Pledge?’ Rather than accusing people of not having a work ethic, why not drop the right-wing propaganda and help them develop one?”
Rowe responded at length, distancing himself from both Republicans and Democrats while explaining why he disagreed with Craig’s assertions. After reviewing the back-and-forth between the two parties, he said, “Through all the howling and shrieking, no one said a word about the millions of jobs that American companies are struggling to fill right now. No one talked the fact that most of those jobs don’t require an expensive four-year degree. And no one mentioned the 1.2 trillion dollars of outstanding student loans, or the madness of lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back, educating them for jobs that no longer exist.”
Rowe also took issue with Craig’s opinion that the unemployed wanted to work. “I’ve seen nothing that would lead me to agree with your generalization. From what I’ve seen of the species, and what I know of myself, most people – give the choice – would prefer NOT to work.”
A Return to Pride
Rowe is right about one thing: we talk about the ways Obama has hurt the economy, we talk about welfare, and we talk about vanishing jobs. What we don’t talk about are all of those jobs that Americans are either unwilling to do or incapable of doing. We don’t talk about the benefits of hard work.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 quotes King Solomon: “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” That verse might easily have been inscribed on the dollar bill right next to In God We Trust. It is the basis for everything that is great about this country, and it informed the lives of those who built it from the ground up. Do today’s millennials still believe in that concept? Do they still believe that hard work reaps its own rewards, entirely apart from money, success, and glory?
Not so much, says author Cam Marston. In a Business-Know-How article, Marston said millennials “ask ‘what is my job?’ and go about figuring the best, fastest way to complete that task. Then they consider themselves done.” For them, work is something to get out of the way so they can get back to leisure. A generalization, surely, but it’s one that could have an extraordinarily negative impact on the next twenty years. If we are looking at a generation that simply does not believe in hard work, there is no public policy we can implement to save the country. We are finished.
In the old days, they told youngsters to dress for the job they wanted, not the job they had. And that advice went not just for appearance but for work ethic as well. Today’s young people don’t even want to work for the job they have. Many of them seem content to stand on the sidewalk with a sign, begging for higher wages. We need a pride movement in this country. We need parents to instill the value – and beauty – of hard work. We need politicians who can preach this message without coming off as preachy. We need a full-blown restoration of the Great American Work Ethic. There is no alternative. Down the other path lies death.
And that’s where we’re headed.