Conservatives make 'entitlement' a dirty word

March 24, 2010

Douglas G. Smith's commentary in Tuesday's edition of The Sun ("Government expansion will break the budget," March 23) is a remarkable piece of conservative logic-mashing and hackneyed blood-boiling rhetoric. It's a disaster of contradictions, assumptions and falsities. But the thing that stands out most is his repetition of a certain word. A word, in the conservative conscience, that's fouler than brimstone, which is exactly why it's repeated so often.

To Mr. Smith and hard-core conservatives, the new government health law is nothing more than an entitlement program. Entitlement.

All the rage and fear of the conservative corpus are concentrated into this noxious droplet: that poor people might get a subsidy via taxes on rich people (yes, individuals making more than $200,000 a year are rich; sorry to inform you). The resulting outrage is conservatism at its most primal; its most authentic expression. The idea that a poor person sitting at home, unemployed, probably with several kids, is getting help -- without working for it -- from the government to pay for health insurance, is too much for the conservative heart to endure.

What makes it especially poisonous is that the money probably got taken from the tax return of rich person. I can picture Bill O'Reilly's temple throbbing at the thought. It's my money. I worked for it. I earned it. I should be able to keep it. I should be able to spend my money as I choose. Government intervention is secular Satanism.

Here's the thing: I've seen many rich progressives, but never a poor conservative. I've never heard of someone living in poverty claim to be a conservative. As though poverty only hits the lazy, only clobbers the uninspired or the person devoid of a will to succeed. It never seems to enter the hard-core conservative mind that the poor might be poor for reasons beyond their control. Perhaps, say, they were hit with a debilitating illness and couldn't afford to pay the medical bills, lost their job, their house and now are struggling to survive.

These people are simply part of the unfortunate.

A hard-core conservative never seems to wonder at how circumstances help shape fate. They point out a few success stories. Go be like Ben Carson. He did it, you can too, stop making excuses. Never mind that your mother is a teenager, your father's in jail, and the school you go to resembles Afghanistan. This willful blindness to reality by fixating on a few successful aberrations would be hysterical if it weren't so bloodless.

Never mind that people with health insurance who receive medical attention cost less than people without health insurance. Forget that financial incentive and focus on the human aspect. The popular YouTube video of a man with Parkinson's sitting in front of a mob of protestors was an amazing thing to witness. The mob, dressed in button downs and khakis, able to take a day off from work, were throwing dollar bills at the man sunken on the sidewalk, taunting him: "Let me pay for you; let me pay for your health insurance." It never seemed to enter their minds that a man with Parkinson's might find it hard to acquire health insurance or keep a steady job.

I've often wondered what would happen in the heart of a conservative if they lost their job, health insurance, and suffered a catastrophe.

Would they stay conservative? Would they want to partake in that entitlement program that just got passed that permits them to buy health insurance at a subsidized rate? Would they change?

I've often heard that conservatism develops over time, that as you grow older, your conservatism expands. You acquire more, so you want to preserve what you've acquired.

Personally, my experience has been the opposite. The older I get, the broader my perspective grows; I'm more able to put myself in the perspective of the less fortunate and see how it might be hard to get going without receiving a little help. If that means I end up supporting an entitlement program, then sign me up.

Brian Wolak, Towson

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