Guest contributors run the gamut, but they all pretty much rock.
As Republicans like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan ramp up efforts to take on entitlement reform in 2018, you will hear several takes along the way about how the GOP doesn’t care about hungry kids, the elderly, and folks who actually need assistance from the government. Wading through these responses from far leftists and Democrat politicians sound like an episode of The Dr. Oz Show, where everything Republicans vote on or propose can “literally” kill you.
My views on entitlements cause many disagreements between myself and many of my Republican friends and counterparts. It’s one of many things that I feel justifies the self-identifying “Conservative Democrat” label. My Republican friends in college believed that helping others is never fully achieved through taxes, rather it was the role of private charities (nonprofits, churches, etc.). While I don’t disagree with that, I also think it’s incredibly important for the government to step in where those charities cannot. In some regards, we have a responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves, be it in the form of SNAP for the family that’s having a tough time after the loss of a job, in the form of disability assistance for those who have a legitimate ailment that requires lots of medical assistance and renders them unable to work full capacity, and helping our seniors, many of whom were promised those social security benefits at retirement age from the time they started working. I get the point: it’s our own responsibility to help ourselves and largely, I agree with that. But unfortunate situations and circumstances happen and for those exceptions, our government should be there where private charities are not.
The Card With No Limit
There are many who wonder where I cultivated any sort of fiscal conservatism as a Democrat. It all started when I worked at the town grocery store through my last few years of high school. I worked about 40 hours a week, minimum wage, and there were great and not so great things about it. But it was where I learned that many people (not all, but many) who utilize EBT were able-bodied Americans who relied solely on the government to help them. Not the senior citizen who bought into the New Deal. Not the mother who worked 40+ hours a week who had a little extra help to do what she could for her kids.
For those who wonder where the term “entitlement” came from, you would have to be behind that cash register to fully understand it. While there were those who did not make a big deal about utilizing the SNAP/EBT program, there were several others who strutted about, flashed their cards like they were holding American Express Black; as if they were actually proud of being permanent recipients of a program that is meant to be a temporary fix. These weren’t Americans who needed a small boost to get them out of a hole; these were Americans who had officially given up on finding gainful employment. They succumbed to the belief that their role in life was to sit back and allow their government to control every aspect of their lives, including how much food their family was going to eat for the next two weeks. These were Americans who believed the American Dream was something they couldn’t provide for themselves. It used to make me angry as that sixteen-year old-cashier in small-town Arkansas. Looking back on those stories, I’m less angered and more heartbroken.
Sitting Alone At The Party
Those problems I listed are legitimate problems I have with certain entitlements and that is where the disconnect with many in my own party start. Democrats usually lie to themselves when they ignore these stories and others about people who claim SSI disability at ages nowhere near close to retirement caused by years of drug abuse, extreme obesity, “a bad back,” among other things. There is a sense of entitlement many people (not all, but many) on these programs have: it’s there, the government gives it to me, and I deserve this for [insert absurd reason here]. They don’t care what someone else earned and was taxed so that they could have food on their plate, be it the One Percenter up in the tower with their name on the building, the nurse making over 100K a year who squirrels most of her money away in 401K to keep the government’s hands off of it, the middle class family whose insurance went up post-Affordable Care Act, or the grocery store employee who stood there all day scanning groceries, struggling to eat ramen and pay bills while they arrogantly grin about the goodies in their basket.
I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t a recipient of government programs. I utilized Pell Grant, loans, and other programs in college. I cashed out unemployment around the time I was fired from a stressful job in higher education. I’m not against help; it should exist for those who need it to get to the next part of their professional lives. But it amazes me that there are those who pay into these programs and “make too much money” to utilize them, usually those families in the middle class or single individuals who did the right thing and may actually need that temporary fix EBT or another program can provide.
Whenever anyone attempts to have a rational discussion about the long-term effects of creating a welfare state on the backs of others, an immediate shutdown occurs, followed by a play of identity politics. I actually had a young white millennial tell me one evening, “You’re black and you’re gay, how can you want a change in these programs?” when I stated how millions of Americans staying on entitlements long-term can harm our country.
For years, I would sort of dismiss or roll my eyes at my Republican friends who told me for years that Democrat politicians support these programs because it creates a voting base dependent upon them for survival. It seemed crazy to me that a party that claims to pride itself on help as needed (civil rights, LGBTQ rights, safe-legal-rare abortion, EBT, disability) would want people to remain dependent on the government exclusively for its survival. But witnessing how the last eight to ten years has created the worst sort of sense of entitlement and the worst sort of hyperbolic replies, (#ItsMyBody, #BakeMyCake, #EverythingIsRacist, #TaxTheRich) those Republicans begin to make a lot of sense.
Leave My Stuff Alone
I always believed in the mantra, “We help our kids, we help our seniors, we help those who have legitimate disabilities that render them unable to work, and we offer temporary assistance for those who need it. And everybody else needs to hit the pavement and work for the wages, their food, their health insurance.” For many on both sides of the aisle, that is unreasonable to ask. The far left says that’s not enough and everyone should have these things whether they can afford it or not, regardless of the reason. The far right believe “we” don’t help anyone but ourselves. But for many who share some of my line of thinking, these are things that we can negotiate and really explore. Having a rational discussion about a reasonable birth year to raise the age of Social Security or completely eliminate it, deciding a cap on SNAP/EBT programs in a lifetime, putting restrictions in place to keep those receiving these programs from abusing drugs are not unreasonable.
Democrats like California Senator Kamala Harris like to grandstand on entitlement reforms and ending government mandated healthcare by claiming the Republicans are “taking it from us.” What she and those who agree with her fail to realize is that Republicans can’t take something away from you that technically wasn’t yours to begin with. We talk about how we can cut military spending or cut multiple things funded by the government to provide food, clothing, and healthcare to millions. I agree that there is a lot of spending we should assess. But just because we can afford it, doesn’t mean that we should provide it. Attitudes like these slowly create societies where people feel financially and emotionally handicapped. It creates a society where programs aren’t temporary fixes but are permanent leaks and cracks that become too much for anyone fix. It eventually creates conditions like the ones you hear about in Venezuela, where the government rations your food and controls your money.
We need to strongly encourage an overhaul of government programs so those on entitlements who are nowhere near retirement age can jump into the workforce again, to be competitive in the workforce, to have income that is earned. The only way we can encourage that is by restricting or even eliminating programs designed to encourage those to rest on their laurels and forever enjoy the fruits of someone else's labor.