Politicians in Washington invariably use the term “entitlements” to refer to programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. On the face of it, it’s a neutral term: citizens are entitled to certain benefits if they fit a certain category of need, hence the benefits might reasonably be called “entitlements.”
Yet the word carries ideological freight—an implication that people are lazy or self-indulgent to expect these things.
First of all, I'm genuinely glad to see Paul Ryan talking at length about poverty, as he did in a speech yesterday. I'm guessing that makes him second only to John Edwards in terms of how much verbage a recent presidential candidate has given the issue.
E. J. Dionne—probably my favorite big-daily columnist—thinks liberals need to make a direct, full-throated defense of government:
If progressives do not speak out plainly on behalf of government, they will be disadvantaged throughout the election-year debate. Gov. Scott Walker’s victory in the Wisconsin recall election owed to many factors, including his overwhelming financial edge. But he was also helped by the continuing power of the conservative anti-government idea in our discourse. An energetic argument on one side will be defeated only by an energetic argument on the other.
Hmm. I share Dionne's frustration with the success of anti-government conservatism in recent years, as well as the positive view he goes on to present of government's singular role in stimulating the economy and creating jobs (the main policy focus of his column). But more generally, I'm not convinced that the answer is to match anti-government attacks with equally fierce pro-government rebuttals.
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