The American right may be lousy at performing positively for the greater good of the American people, but it has been great at coining names that stick, and which misidentify in exactly the way they wish. “Pro-life” comes to mind as an identity constructed for anti-choice on abortion zealots by exactly those zealots, and later broadly adopted into general usage. Whomever exactly coined the word entitlements as an identifier of programs that comprise the American safety net, and whatever complicity a slavish press and lemming Washingtonian culture had in adopting it into usage, “entitlements” is criminally misleading and offensively smelly, given that benefits from these programs, whether Social Security, Medicare or Unemployment Insurance have been EARNED, paid for already by the beneficiaries.
Initially the coinage perhaps had a basic validity in budgetary terms, describing funds to which people were indeed entitled, in the sense they must be paid to them because they had been promised and paid for. Yet it is a nomenclature that has been a godsend to the safety net abhorring right, those history forgetful anti-government lunatics who have overrun the Republican Party and come heavily under the influence of ideology time and again to brutalize Social Security and Medicare. The adage is that those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it, though in this case those who do not remember or do not acknowledge that the poverty rate among the elderly was two and three times what it has been since the inception of Social Security and later Medicare, will not be the ones condemned to repeat the poverty sure to return should those programs be eviscerated as the right desires, but rather their less affluent fellow citizens and a majority of the middle class in its old age.
Along the way some Mephistophelian conservative pip contrived the term entitlement society as a means to smear the modern welfare state and to demean its beneficiaries as a nest of swag addicted vipers, or in the words of the inestimable president-elect of nothing Mitt Romney: “the 47 percent of the people…who are dependent upon the government…I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Surely the opportunity to capitalize on the term entitlements in order to miscast American social insurance programs, which is what they are, and should be called rather than entitlements, as giveaways was irresistible.
Not surprising that with its usual passivity establishment Washington, including the press would accept this characterization of government priorities that largely benefit the middle class and American workers, while gravy boats the size of battleships conveying government booty in the form of benignly named handouts along the lines of subsidies, allotments, write-offs, tax favorability and deductions manage to escape branding as equally biased. Indeed, to encounter genuine entitled squalling one must catch the act of the petroleum industry anytime there is even mention of curbing its precious taxpayer provided subsidies, which it has enjoyed since early in the 20th Century, and designed to nurture an industry in its infancy as industrialization revved up the demand for oil and gas. So what would one call an industry enjoying, literally, the largest annual profits in human history still pleading it absolutely cannot live without its giveaways, other than: entitled?
In fact, the list of goodies to which the wealthy and corporate elite believe themselves entitled , the unearned benefits coming their way at the expense of taxpaying average folks, that when threatened turn the big, strong job creators into the loudest crybabies the world has ever heard is looooong. Just try to lay a hand on carried interest, the boondoggle allowing equity types and managers of hedge funds to have their management fees taxed at the same rate as capital gains. And speaking of capital gains, mere talk of raising the tax on capital to anything approaching that borne by working people…Oh…My…God…causes such a hullabaloo of threats to stamp their feet and turn blue you have to cover your ears.
So, what seems like entitlements to you: programs that require beneficiaries to pay premiums during the entirety of their working lives in order to qualify, and which produce an immeasurable contribution to the economic health of the nation; or unearned giveaways to the wealthy and powerful on the basis not only that they are so very swell but so psychologically fragile they will refuse to work if their goody bags are taken away?
Republican indifference to debt and deficits is well known: they blithely blow them wide open when they are running the show and rain crocodile tears over them when they are not, as a not very convincing pretext for attacking the safety net. They’ll use the weasel term entitlement reform ad nauseum in the coming months as the euphemism for the hatchet they hope to take to Medicare and Social Security (Transferring the services carried out by each program to profiteers in the applicable segments of the private sector being the real goal).
While there may be little hope of changing the common parlance entitlements, it is worth remembering each time it is used how foolishly inaccurate and hypocritical the usage is, in particular from the Washington crowd of nannies and handmaids to plutocrats.