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The Word “Entitlement” Has Become a *Snarl Word

written by Jane Edwards

Ask 2 Answer:  “The Repubs keep calling Social Security and Medicare entitlement programs and they are not – we paid and pay for them…” Here is my take:  Republicans and Libertarians have turned the word “Entitlements” into what is called a “snarl word” – a politically-charged word delivered in a demeaning, sneering tone. I get it – words matter… like “Enhanced Interrogation” vs. “Torture.”  But, seriously, in the grand scheme of things, what does it matter what Republicans do with the lexicon? If it makes you feel better, refer to the programs as “federal retirement benefits.” Try not to get worked up with what the less imaginative call them.

In the interest of making the argument:  An entitlement program is a “government-sponsored program designed to provide guaranteed benefits to its citizens, through right or legislation.” Generally, the term is associated with the many forms of welfare.  I tend to agree that calling Medicare and Social Security “entitlement programs” is an inaccuracy, as these programs are funded by deductions from workers’ wages with the intent that, eventually, these same workers will get the money back. That is, the people who will benefit from the program are the ones who are funding it. Therein lies an important distinction: Social Security Retirement isn’t “free money;” it’s earned money being paid back.

Unlike Social Security, people pay very little for their Medicare benefits. The gap between what the average person pays in Medicare Taxes and receives in Medicare benefits represents a large part of the country’s long-term fiscal woes. I believe Big Pharma could help with that.

Unlike other “entitlement programs,” which only pay to the living, Social Security earnings are not lost upon death. They can be used to keep elderly widowed seniors from being homeless or having to rely on charity for meals.

Why should we have Social Security and Medicare?

To me, that is a very easy question to answer:  The U.S. Constitution’s first three words— “We the People” is an affirmation that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens. The Preamble briefly states the “fundamental purposes and guiding principles” is to “promote the general Welfare,” a phrase that both Republicans and Libertarians seem to forget. Allow me to break that down: “Promote” – support or actively encourage; “general” – affecting or concerning all or most people, places, or things; “welfare” – the health, happiness, and fortunes of the People. Promoting the “general welfare” is about caring. It’s more than providing resources for people in need. It is also about promoting environmental and wildlife protections and the conservation and stewardship of our natural resources. Promoting the general welfare has been said to mean, “Whatever the government can do better for the people than they can do for themselves, the government ought to do.” 

What we know as entitlement programs find their biggest advocates in liberal politicians and their most vociferous detractors among Republicans and Libertarians. Libertarians (among them, kazillionaires David and Charles Koch) believe we should “eliminate the entire social welfare system. This includes eliminating food stamps, subsidized housing, and all the rest. It is the Libertarian position that individuals who are unable to fully support themselves and their families through the job market must learn to rely on supportive family, church, community, or private charity to bridge the gap.”  Republicans (with support from kazillionaires Robert and Rebeka Mercer) believe poverty-fighting programs like Social Security and Medicare are the definitive evil in our society and equate these earned-benefit programs to “welfare.” Republicans want to bundle Medicare up with block grants and ship them down to the States (turning it into “couponcare”); they want to privatize Social Security, sending it to Wall Street (whose financial recklessness nearly destroyed our economy in the not so distant past).

If you and I think alike, you may wonder why the afore mentioned fabulously wealthy people – benefiting from and protected by the same Constitution as everyone else – are so vehemently opposed to helping the poor and disadvantaged? What the hell is it to them? Here is my take: they are self-absorbed, avaricious plutocrats whose lack of social obligation and ignorance of the simplest realities of the complexities of people’s lives in the world around them staggers the mind.

Here’s the thing:  If one of these kazillionaires became acutely ill, s/he would be rushed to a tax-subsidized emergency room, in a tax- subsidized ambulance, driven down tax- subsidized roads, by drivers whose wages are taxed for FICA and Medicare (et al). The infrastructure that their immense wealth was built upon and depends upon – roads, bridges, telecommunications, water, energy – is massively subsidized by taxpayers. They rationalize contributing nothing in taxes the same way Donald Trump does – they are simply smarter than the rest of us. And, if we were as clever as they, we too would not pay. They are citizens of the “Ayn Rand elite,” those who grasp only that they were put on this earth to acquire, to look after themselves ahead of everyone (or, instead of anyone) else, and… other people were put on this earth to serve them.  Of course, they would not dream of collecting Social Security or Medicare.  And, if you believe that, I would like to introduce you to a Nigerian prince who desperately needs your bank account in which he could hide his millions…

I think contemplating how these attitudes of selfishness and avarice diminish the rest of us, and how the extraordinary influence on politicians these people wield, rates higher than what either Republicans or Libertarians, or you or I, call Social Security and Medicare.

NB *snarl word    A word used to induce a negative response or association in the person hearing or reading it. Commonly used to appeal to people’s emotions rather than their reasoning, and thereby get them on your side. Definition taken from the Urban Dictionary

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