"I do not think it means what you think it means."
Yes, I know that this quote outs me as a hopeless Princess Bride wonk, but not only is Inigo Montoya one of my all-time favorite movie characters, his words are an appropriate place to start this article.
I suffered a severe case of face-palm damage the other day while standing in a check-out line. I nearly broke my own nose when a senior citizen behind me fussed to her companion, "Those damn Democrats better not mess with my Medicare or Social Security! They need to cut some of their d--ned entitlements instead!"
Does anyone in this country know what "Entitlements" are, anymore? Have we all come to believe that word means welfare and giving money to people so they won't work? Have the talking heads on cable news and talk radio finally convinced everyone that half this country really does mooch off the other half?
Do me a favor. Imagine what you think the average recipient of "Entitlements" is. Let's see how well your imagination matches up with reality.
While you are doing so, let me explain why the politicians and the chattering idiots on the air can get away with using that word without angering the very people who are receiving "Entitlements". It's very simple; there is no such word in the Federal Budget. There is no line item we can easily cut for "Entitlements", just as surely as there is no line item for "Fraud and Waste", or for "Earmarks". You won't find the budget for any of these things.
In the case of Entitlements, you won't even find a consensus on what it means, exactly. Different people are thinking different things. Just like a politician can support "Family Values" or "Traditional Morals" and safely let different audiences imagine different things, never explaining what he means, the same politician can rail against Entitlements and let the audience believe he is talking about cutting the same things they want cut.
Many readers, when I asked them to imagine the average recipient of "Entitlements", will have imagined a welfare mother, perhaps with some of her children born solely to expand her "paycheck". This point of view is constantly reinforced on the Right by commentators and politicians through use of the term "culture of entitlement", which the above readers will understand in a quite different way than the term is intended to mean. For them, the "culture of entitlement" is the culture of minorities in the United States, supposedly brought up to believe they are owed everything from Society in return for nothing on their own part.
Ironically, many of the people whom they are imagining this way would be shocked at the suggestion that they expected anything else from Society than a metaphorical knife in the back.
(For those who care, the term “culture of entitlement” is properly intended to describe a culture that believes certain things should be provided free of charge to everyone. What things these might be, varies by culture; arguably, the great majority of Americans who believe Education is such an Entitlement are therefore part of a culture of entitlement.)
Entitlements. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
As I said, there is no line item in the Federal budget that says "Entitlements". But, even if we include Welfare programs in the list of "Entitlements", the 2010 budget Entitlement items were as follows (source: http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/):
6.6 Billion Workers Compensation
108.4 Billion Veterans Benefits <- Includes VA and Pensions
119.9 Billion Federal Retirement
160.1 Billion Unemployment
330.7 Billion Medicaid and other 'welfare' healthcare programs
336.6 Billion Welfare other than Healthcare, Unemployment or Workman's Comp.
451.6 Billion Medicare
706.7 Billion Social Security (minus 77.0 Billion in employer payments)
Perhaps you are surprised to see that the two largest "Entitlements", the Entitlements that constitute more than half the total and incidentally, the ones that are expanding at the fastest rate and threatening to break the Federal budget, are the same Medicare and Social Security the nice lady didn't want the politicians touching. Furthermore, at least a third of the remainder are not 'Welfare' as most people understand it but other retirement programs and insurance policies: Workers Compensation, Unemployment Insurance, Veterans Benefits, and Federal Employee retirement.
So, cut all "entitlements" many consider "welfare", and we haven't even paid for Social Security yet. We have barely made a dent in the budget deficit.
I most certainly have an opinion as to what we should and shouldn't do to address the budget deficit, but I will withhold it here. I didn't write this article to discuss this or persuade anyone to my point of view. I simply do not believe we will solve the problems we face as a nation until far more of us begin to understand what the word "Entitlements" means. Perhaps, until our politicians and commentators stop using it to whitewash what it is they are really talking about. Right now, I do not think it means what the majority thinks it means, and that is the very source of our political problems these days.