STOP calling them “Entitlements,” for Christ’s sake!

What do you think of when you hear the word “entitlement” or “entitled?”  As in, “he’s got this sense of entitlement about him,” right?  Someone who feels they have more coming to them than we think they really deserve, right?

Whatever right-wing wordsmith managed, back in the 1980’s apparently, to make the word “entitlements” an accepted shorthand for Social Security and Medicare, long before Frank Luntz started working his devious verbal magic, really pulled off a masterpiece.  These days even liberal pundits and President Obama are going to the mat defending what they’ve bizarrely agreed to keep calling “entitlements.”  SOME reactionary somewhere, old or dead, is snickering to himself.

This has been bugging me for ten or twenty years, but it’s starting to seem extra objectionable now, as I see these vital American programs, which each of us has PAID FOR and FOUGHT FOR, on the operating table one more time, while the defenders of these programs stupidly use the sneaky vocabulary of the programs’ lifelong foes.  For never forget – the rightwing forces of corporate reaction, which completely own the Republican Party and have inroads into the other one, have ALWAYS opposed both Social Security and Medicare from the day they were first dreamed up, even though they spout doublespeak about “saving” the very popular programs from themselves.

Other great minds than my own have been thinking alike about this “entitlement” terminology, but we have obviously not been listened to.  Chris Hayes, on MSNBC, urges us to instead say “social insurance” – but I say no, even though it’s accurate, most Americans hate the sound of BOTH socialism and insurance.  Ed Schultz had been encouraging everyone to say “earned benefits” which I think is unwieldy – and now Big Fat Ed himself has relapsed and is saying “entitlements” himself.  This fellow at Daily Kos, who’s apparently already written the essay I now don’t need to, quotes reformed Republican operative Mike Lofgren on the topic:

You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. “Entitlement” has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is “entitled” selfishly claims something he doesn’t really deserve. Why not call them “earned benefits,” which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don’t make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the “estate tax,” it is the “death tax.” Heaven forbid that the Walton family should give up one penny of its $86-billion fortune. All of that lucre is necessary to ensure that unions be kept out of Wal-Mart, that women employees not be promoted and that politicians be kept on a short leash.

If anyone listened to me which they don’t, I would say shorten “earned benefits” to just “benefits.”  Brevity and punch count.  “Earned” is understood.  We’re used to the fact that we bargain for benefits when we take a job, or pay for benefits when we buy insurance.  Congressional Republicans want to CUT our BENEFITS, which we’ve of course earned and paid for.  Congressional Republicans want to have BENEFIT REFORM on the table for slicing and dicing, as a price for any co-operation with our elected President.

You Republicans reading this – not the politicians but the regular folks out there who vote Republican for one reason or another – don’t you be fooled either:  It’s also YOUR paid-for benefits they’re trying to strip away.  Don’t believe your favorite Washington politicians when they say they’re trying to “save” what they dismissively call your “entitlements” – Social Security not only has nothing to do with the deficit, it will be fine for decades to come with only the most minor tweaks, and Medicare needs only a bit more adjustment.  And stop calling them “entitlements!”

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.