The language arts may not command strict reverence among ordinary folk using colloquial American dialect, and that’s OK, but when our elected representatives fail to grasp the meaning of the word “entitlement,” the rights of those so legitimately entitled become beset by a slow-acting poison.

With Republicans now controlling both chambers of U.S. Congress, and a president obsessed with bipartisanship clearing his throat about “entitlement reform,” the poison is reaching late stage cerebral edema.

Little things like the right to a dignified retirement, health care in old age, and the commonwealth’s social safety net, get placed by self-anointed “prime movers” under the “takers” guillotine as the rubes buy into a simple bastardization of the English language.

While your crotchety old neighbor waves his quad cane at the kids these days and their “sense of entitlement,” what he is criticizing is a perceived unjustified expectation for an unearned right. That is to say, a false sense of entitlement.

An “entitlement” precisely means: the fact of having a right to something. Only a “false sense of entitlement” would imply the right was unearned. As much as conservatives sneer at “entitlement” programs, as though it’s a dirty word, as though it’s pejorative, they are in fact sneering at, by definition, perfectly justified and legitimate rights of the people.

A dimwit may support rolling back entitlement programs with the misunderstanding that this will prevent freeloaders from freeloading, but in fact rolling back an “entitlement” is stealing away earned benefits.

Traipsing along comes Mark Halperin to tell us that if the Grand Old Party wants to do what’s “good for their party and good for the country” they will have to take risks such as “dealing with the president” and “being the party who are for fundamental restructuring of entitlement programs.”

Social Security is one major right earned by the American people (see also: an entitlement) about which Republicans really haven’t been shy about advocating “fundamental restructuring” (see also: the gutting of).

To cover our bases, the federal government does not fund Social Security, American workers fund Social Security. And Social Security is not insolvent, the federal government owes trillions of dollars to Social Security after decades of looting from it starting with Reagan and Greenspan in the 1980s.

This has created a future insolvency, in 2038. The easiest way to deal with that future insolvency would be to (a) stop looting the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for other shit, and (b) raise the cap.

But those are not the solutions the Grand Old Party sees as being “good for their party and good for the country.” Plenty of conservative Big Thinkers have made it perfectly clear they’d like nothing better than to deal a death blow to this key pillar of  “New Deal Machiavellianism,” as Douthat would have it. And the “moderate” conservative fix is to punish American workers who have earned their entitlement through a lifetime of labor by raising the retirement age.

Work a little longer, work a little harder, ya bums. It’s time to take back what’s “good for their party and good for the country” by taking back from those greedy old fogies expecting to be paid what they’ve earned, to the tune of 5 years more work at stagnant wages. And what with American life expectancy rising as it is, why stop at 70, or 75, or 80?

As long as cheap sophism equates “entitlements” with freeloading, it may take people a minute or two to notice that the program that eliminated abject elderly poverty in America has been sabotaged. But when the time comes that you witness one octogenarian serving another the Early Bird at Denny’s, remember babies, tip well.

David DeWitt is a journalist and universal minister based out of Athens, Ohio. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s He can be found on Twitter @TheRevDeWitt.

  • Susan Riley

    It bugs the snot out of me when Social Security and Medicare are labeled as “entitlements”. Both are, in essense, insurance policies. We pay ‘premiums’ into both our entire working lives. Then at 65 we begin to take the cash value out of those policies. While it’s true that some folks will receive more benefits than they have paid in by being sick or simply living longer than expected lives, it’s also true that some people will die prematurely and receive nothing. The majority of us will fall somewhere in the middle. This is what all ‘insurance’ is about – statistical odds. The Republicans need to get over it.

  • MKTG

    Entitlements is just another one of their mind games to manipulate and confuse–we need to demand changes in how members of Congress are paid–not allowing them to increase their own salaries, but based on votes of the constituents they serve with the same benefits and retirement plans as everyone else.

  • Michael Smith

    Eliminating the cap on wages subject to social security taxes only solves 37% of the funding gap, according to the American Academy of Actuaries – unless you’re going to eliminate the cap for taxation but keep the current cap for benefits. In other words, you tax on full wages but give credit in the benefits formula for no more than $117,000 earned. Personally, as someone whose wages exceed the cap, and whose returns on social security will be among the lowest of anyone, I find it a bit absurd to say I (and many other middle class families) should be taxed more but not receive one cent more in benefits. I’m willing to make a sacrifice, but we all should make some sacrifice.

    A more simplistic solution is to reduce COLA to compounded chained CPI (which is still far more generous than most public employee pension COLAs), make a slight tweak to the formula by reducing the 15% multiplier on average monthly wages over $4,980 to about 10% (Ie, reduce the rate at which benefits grow for higher earners, but don’t eliminate it), and change the calculation of average earnings to be indexed according to CPI, not wage inflation.

    Those changes would solve the entire funding problem, would cause those at medium income levels or below to lose 5% or less of their lifetime social security benefits, while those at the upper levels would lose about 15%. I’d call that a fair deal…

    It also would prevent unintended consequences of rewarding people for not saving for themselves – a problem with means testing benefits – because I know plenty of people with my income who don’t save a penny for retirement. Taking my social security away but not theirs simply because I took personal responsibility and they failed to is a dangerous move.

  • tuhaybey

    One way to measure the parties’ success with regard to Ohio’s economy is to look at how Ohio’s unemployment rate has shifted under presidents of each party-

    The results are incredibly stark. Ohio’s unemployment rate has risen over 6% under the last 2 Republican presidents and fallen over 6% under the last 2 Democrats.

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