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Posted: December 13, 2009 12:00 a.m.

Keep it simple

Recently I've enjoyed watching a commercial featuring a member of the 20th century rock band, KISS. In it, "Doctor Love" extols the virtues of a cola beverage which "...has a kiss of cherry flavor." As he ties the ancient band's name with the 21st century beverage by emphasizing the word - KISS - the musician's son interrupts and chastises his dad for hammering the word so heavily, for the beverage is touted as being "amazingly smooth." The old guy, recognizing defeat, docilely closes by plugging the cola as amazingly smooth, even as fiery blasts erupt from the rock group's special effects set.

My own dad urged me to hold onto old stuff as it went out of style. "It'll be the rage again," he'd say, and he is proven correct by the recent trend toward "retro" styling of automobiles such as Chrysler's PT Cruiser and Challenger or Chevy's HHR and Camaro. They're emulating two great standards, which never ventured far from their original incarnations: the Chevy Corvette and the Ford Mustang.

Like a Flannery O'Connor short story, however, the KISS commercial presents different levels of meaning based on the viewer's perspective.

Music fans mostly agree that the 1960s and '70s constituted "the golden age of rock-and-roll music." Not only are tunes from those decades heard frequently on contemporary radio stations, the aging artists still play concerts to sold-out arenas. Not only the original groups, but modern tribute bands imitating the oldies recognize a winning formula.

Start with guitars and drums, add keyboards, a screeching horn section and some background vocalists, stir in musicians who can rock and roll, and turn up the volume, dude.

It's amazingly smooth.

Another level of meaning in that KISS commercial is the acronym representing sound philosophy for coaching football: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Football is blocking and tackling; the team that blocks and tackles best and makes the fewest mistakes normally wins. And, in general, the simplest approach works best.

I encountered another version of "Keep It Simple, Stupid" when recently opening e-mail containing a ubiquitous forwarded message. This one, crafted anonymously and printed last April in the St. Petersburg Times, offers seemingly simple solutions to some of America's most complex problems.
The writer asks our federal government to adopt the "Patriotic Retirement Plan" instead of hemorrhaging billions of dollars to save Wall Street, General Motors and the banking industry.

The plan calls for each of roughly 40 million Americans over age 50 in the work force to receive $1 million for early retirement, with the following stipulations: 1) they must retire, creating 40 million job openings and fixing unemployment; 2) they must buy a new American car, selling 40 million cars and fixing the automobile industry; 3) they must pay off their mortgage or buy a house, thus fixing the housing crisis.

Sounds easy, right? The problem is that it's not 40 times 1. It's 40 million times one million, which equals $40 trillion - way more than what Congress actually allocated.

The truth is there's no easy way to fix decades of poor domestic policy-making. There's no easy way to reform generations of citizens raised since Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society" created the welfare cycle, who have for 50 years been inculcated with the notion that anyone is entitled to whatever they want just because they want it.

But there is a simple way to wean our society from the disastrous, wrong-headed idea that government is the Great Provider.

That simple way is to first recognize that equality under the law for all citizens exists under our Constitution, and to next call for an immediate end to entitlement programs. Equality means equal opportunity - a level playing field for everyone. No justifiable need exists for empowerment zones, housing subsidies or hiring quotas based on race or gender. Entitlements for special interest groups must end. Our government need only enforce our Constitution, which has withstood the tests of time.

Only then can America, as one nation, under God, indivisible, move forward into a new prosperity by ensuring equality for all, while ending entitlement programs, which financially and spiritually bankrupt us and serve chiefly only to build walls of animosity and resentment among our citizenry.

Old things, and old ideas, eventually come into vogue again. Hard work and respect for those who earn their way under the Constitution's guarantee of equal opportunity are like the Corvette and the Mustang. They're shining beacons lighting the path back to substantive things that matter: respect for God and country, devotion to family, hard work, polite behavior.

America's problems can be solved by ending the era of entitlements, and returning to the core Judeo-Christian values which made ours the greatest nation on Earth.

It's not easy, but it is simple.

And that's a sweet kiss, which is amazingly smooth.

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.

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