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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Scratch ‘Entitlement’ from Dem Vocabulary

Political correspondent Bill Boyarsky makes a good point in his Truthdig post “Entitlement Is a Republican Word.”

At his news conference this week, President Barack Obama seized on a misleading Washington word–“entitlements”–to describe the badly needed aid programs that are likely to be cut because of his compromises with the Republicans.
“Entitlement” is a misleading word because it masks the ugly reality of reducing medical aid for the poor, the disabled and anyone over 65 as well as cutting Social Security. Calling such programs entitlements is much more comfortable than describing them as what they are–Medicare, Social Security and money for good schools, unemployment insurance, medical research and public works construction that would put many thousands to work.
It’s also a Republican word. It implies that those receiving government aid have a sense of entitlement, that they’re getting something for nothing. And now it’s an Obama word as he moves toward the center and away from the progressives who powered his 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination over centrist Hillary Clinton.
“There is, frankly, resistance on my side to do anything on entitlements,” he said before heading into another negotiating session over raising the debt limit and cutting the budget. “There is strong resistance on the Republican side to do anything on revenues. But if each side takes a maximalist position, if each side wants 100 percent of what its ideological predispositions are, then we can’t get anything done.”

Having been guilty of using ‘entitlements’ on many occasions, I now realize Boyarsky is right. It is a convenient catch-all term, but it is freighted with negative overtones and plays right into the Republican scam of making programs working people have paid for sound a little like privileges provided to slackers.
Boyarksky goes on to fault the President for caving on social program cuts and adds “To stop them, Obama has to be honest, forthright and progressive–and stop using “entitlements” to refer to worthwhile government programs. He’s a writer. He must know what negative nuances the word carries.”
I’m not so sure as Boyarksy that President Obama used the term with full awareness of its more nuanced implications. The term has creeped into mainstream reportage and common parlance, even among liberals. But Boyarksy is dead right that the President and all progressives need to stop using it, because every time we use it, we reinforce the GOP meme that needed — and hard-earned — social programs are extravagant give-aways.

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