- Having a right to something.
- The belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.
- A government program that provides benefits to any individual meeting certain eligibility requirements.
As you can see, the word has a number of meanings. The Declaration of Independence asserts that “all men are endowed by their Creator” with those famous “unalienable rights.” That’s entitlement writ large! Too bad they didn’t include women in that, but I’m sure that’s what they intended. Ahem.
Let’s consider the second definition. One of my pet peeves is people who blithely assume that the rules of society don’t apply to them. You know the type. They park in no-parking zones, or in handicapped parking, sometimes with the little blue HANDICAPPED card hanging on their mirror. But when they bounce out of their car and run into the supermarket, it’s clear that the only handicap they have is their sense of entitlement.
Here’s another one. The gym where I work out every day has an ATM terminal near the front entrance. The curb in front of the gym is a no parking zone, but some people think that doesn’t apply to them. They stop, turn on their emergency flashers and go to the ATM. Meanwhile the two-lane aisle is blocked in one direction, forcing people to enter the oncoming traffic lane. Traffic backs up in both directions, but the person at the ATM is unconcerned. Finishing their transaction, they walk leisurely back to their car and get in, ignoring the glares of all the people they have inconvenienced. On the other side of the lane is a huge parking lot with plenty of parking spaces. But that would mean walking thirty or forty feet farther to the terminal.
Religious believers get a lot of special privileges…their churches get tax exemptions, and they get tax deductions on contributions to them. These entitlements are granted by government. They are justified by claiming that the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution trumps (sorry) the Establishment Clause. But the reality is that the Christian majority in this country has mandated those entitlements since its very beginning. And now, as secularists are growing in numbers and political power, they are defended on the grounds of history, tradition and legal precedence. I am sure there were slavery defenders who used the same arguments. The day may come when organized religion’s free ride will be seriously challenged.But wait, there’s more! Now, with the infamous Religious Freedom Restoration Act, religious believers are allowed to discriminate against people they don’t like on religious grounds. Talk about entitlement! A nonbeliever can face criminal prosecution for doing the same thing. A “get out of jail card” is an incredibly empowering special privilege granted only to religious believers.
It would be negligent of me to leave out the most extreme example of entitlement this nation has ever seen. A person who considers himself above the law, and flouts the principle of separation of powers defined by the Constitution. Only a towering ego would allow a person to feel so self-entitled. And that’s another trait of all the people in the above examples. No person without an inflated sense of self-worth would do such things.
And then, there are government entitlements, the great Bogey Man of conservatives and libertarians. They stand up on their hind legs and howl about how entitlement programs are bankrupting the country. I am especially angered by those who want to privatize Social Security and trim the benefits. Yes, I am entitled to collect Social Security! I paid into it for almost fifty years, and except for the first few, before I graduated from college, I paid the maximum every year. That’s an entitlement I damn well earned. Just as soldiers who served in the military are entitled to the GI Bill. I pay for Medicare, so yeah, I am entitled to it, just as I am entitled to live in my house because I own it.
Of course, there are many entitlement programs for poor people. Poor people can’t pay for those programs. If they could, they wouldn’t need them. These programs are the main target of the political right. I won’t restart the endless debate about the costs and benefits of those programs here, except to say that of all the entitlements granted by government, they seem to be the most humane and the most deserving of support. In fact, you could say they seem the most…um…Christian. It’s more than a bit ironic that the opposition to government entitlements comes from the political right, the most religious part of our population.