Sunday, December 28, 2008

What Goes Around

Debatable Opinions; Letters to the Editor
(originally published by OpEdNews)

In keeping with my virtual national newspaper tour, to be processed in alphabetical order, naturally, I began reading letters written to The Baltimore Sun. I have to say this about people who write to The Sun. They are certainly a progressive bunch. I read letters published over the duration of a few days and I found only one for which I could express a more or less opposing opinion. Even that letter, which was entitled “Extravagant praise for untested liberal”, wasn’t concerned with subject matter that impassions me. It was about Caroline Kennedy’s bid to become a senator from the great state of New York. I was going to write that the author was wasting his time complaining about liberals and keeping the liberal vs. conservative wedge alive, just the way I’ve believed for years The Corporacracy likes it.

I wrote a bit then took a break. I like to write a bit and come back a while later to see if what I’d written still sounds right to me. During my break, I began reading my local newspaper, The Contra Costa Times. I never returned to the letter in The Sun.

A gentleman wrote a letter to The Times blaming the state of the economy on “entitlements”. As I’ve previously written, voice intonation and facial expressions cannot be ascertained by a letter to the editor. However, there were a couple of statements in the letter that seemed to send a message.

According to the letter writer, “Remove entitlements and you reduce government waste.”

He goes on to state that this “reduces government spending, which leads to balanced budgets, which leads to reduced taxes, which leads to people keeping more of their money and investing and spending it the way they want, not the way the government dictates.” (emphasis mine)

Before getting to the emphasized phrase, let’s start at the beginning. According to this fine and, obviously, presently financially secure gentleman, “doling out” entitlements is a waste of the government’s time.

The letter writer tells us that entitlements have been “brewing for 40 years” and have “come home to roost.” This gentleman could possibly stand to read more than a cursory sentence about American history or do more than listen to O’Reilly or Limbaugh. Franklin Delano Roosevelt appeared to have compassion for the 25% of the workers who were unemployed when he took office and implemented many entitlements. That was 76 years ago, not 40 years ago.

Taking care of those who do not work is but one entitlement which it seems the writer of this letter would “remove”. We’ve all heard the argument that those who do not work do not work because they do not wish to work. They’re called lazy and are accused of “living off the state”.

This has been used many times as one example of how this probably isn’t the case. Those who read this column are, by now, tired of following the link and reading about the epiphany that struck me when I hired workers for a Fortune 500 multinational corporation. Maybe someone can share a similar experience that can be interchanged with the above experience. Just the same, that experience opened my eyes to why some people hadn’t worked for many years and how it had nothing at all to do with laziness.

The writer has a point, though, when he implies that taking away an entitlement such as unemployment insurance or removing regulations that prevent employers from turning down perspective candidates for employment simply because those employers are racist or sexist will save money. The unemployed, who may not be hired without the strength of government “interference” and who would be destitute because government shouldn’t bail people out simply because they “screw up” could potentially be strewn along the highways and byways of America, starving to death or even dead. Does the letter writer consider it government’s job to see to it that these “lazy” dead bodies are removed from the emerald paved streets of his America? After all, one shouldn’t have to see such despair while one is “keeping more of” one’s “money and investing and spending it the way” one wants to invest it and spend it.

Now for the emphasized phrase.

Do you get the old argument about republican government in The U.S. when you begin to speak about democracy? Inevitably, when one person says that we live in a democracy, another person who leans a bit to the right reminds us that we don’t live in a democracy, we live in a republic.

If our form of governance worked the way that the text books taught us it works, we, ultimately, live in a democracy. Granted there are no national referenda and the loathsome Electoral College is one huge unnecessary obstacle to real democracy. Nonetheless, with the exception of voting for the president, we were taught and many of us believe that we elect those who represent us and we do it in a democratic fashion. People run for national office and the candidate who receives the most votes is entrusted to represent her or his constituency. In a perfect world, or in a perfect United States, democracy fuels the republic. I have doubts about how legitimate that national view is, but, for the sake of this article, let’s assume things are what they seem.

We elect the people who represent us, so during any given election a majority of those of us who vote shoulder the responsibility for how our government operates. Consequently, we are the government. We are the institution which wastes its time on entitlements. Ironically, many of us are the very same people who accept entitlements. Those of us who accept entitlements need those entitlements.

For example, a person who “screws up” when he causes his back to slowly disintegrate may have a difficult time finding employment. In fact, if he “intentionally” persuades his back to become so decrepit that he’s unable to efficiently and effectively perform almost any task required by almost any job, he will more than likely remain unemployed. With no income and no medical care, his back may become but one link in a deteriorating chain which leads to his death. Lazy, yes, but what a lucky guy.

Another solution that people who believe that entitlements are generally not deserved nor needed is manifested in the form of a tabernacle. They point to churches as voluntary caretakers for the one or two Americans who just may be in need through no fault of their own.

First of all, will atheists be helped with as much enthusiasm as believers? Maybe or maybe not. If someone is an atheist, does he or she want to flip the coin just to see it come up “maybe not”?

Secondly, the baskets passed around on Sundays in most churches will need to be incredibly enlarged. After all, churches will be obligated to purchase medical imaging devices, medicine from the for profit pharmaceutical companies, medical supplies heretofore not considered theocratic tools and hospital beds.

They may not have to pay doctors and/or nurses as the good people who are trained in the field of medicine may do their work gratis. The only professionals who may want compensation would be, of course, the atheists.

A final irony can be found in the list of synonyms for the word “govern”, as found on the web site The Free Dictionary by Farlex. The list includes words like lead, control, command, manage, direct, guide, handle, conduct, order, reign over, administer, oversee, supervise, be in power over, call the shots, call the tune, hold sway over, superintend, rule, decide, guide, influence, underlie, sway, determine, control, check, contain, master, discipline, regulate, curb, inhibit, tame, subdue, get the better of, bridle, hold in check, keep a tight rein on and restrain. In fact these are the only synonyms on that site.

While some of us may have heartburn with words like control, inhibit and subdue, it becomes clear that governing is not meant to be a passive activity or, to put it another way, an inactivity.

Hard as it is to believe words such as ignore, neglect, disregard, shrug off, discount, dismiss, snub and the all important “enrich my friends beyond one’s wildest dreams” do not show up as synonyms for the word govern.

Reinforcing this internet definition of govern is an old standby called The Constitution of The United States of America. It’s obvious to the most casual of observers that the authors of that fine document didn’t intend for government to sit back and merely observe American Society. It, for sure, makes no reference to people in need as lazy, opportunist or stupid. It doesn’t even attempt to foresee a time when every American citizen becomes lazy, opportunist or stupid.

The author of this libertarian-like letter is either one of the very wealthy people in America or is a middle class worker whose been convinced that he is adorned with one of those “you can’t lay me off” shields. If that shield ever fails him, and let’s hope it never does, he will be entitled. Will his outlook on entitlements change? It may or he may think that, in his case, it’s different.

On the bright side, the writer leaves us with a prediction that, after America goes “through its self-imposed socialist cycle”, Americans will look back and say, “Remember when everyone thought they were entitled to everything? Wow, were we stupid.”
At least the gentleman has the clarity of thought and presence of mind to count himself among the “stupid”.


To friendship,
Michael

“Christmas reinforces the greed of the greedy and the need of the needy.” – Michael Bonanno


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