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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

March 24th, 2010 12:03 PM

Entitlement Reform: The Real Language of Hatred

While we might want to get angry about language and ugliness surfacing during the national discussion of the health insurance reform bill just signed into law, the real nasty language dripping with contempt and loathing for the unwashed masses of America is the language of “entitlement reform.” Just as supposedly more patriotic, profit-loving, pro-corporate power and free market junkies have effectively strangled the discussion of real health reform and delivered a very nice package of bennies to the medical-industrial complex, the same power brokers are already well underway in framing the discussion of all other government programs that benefit millions of Americans, like Social Security and traditional Medicare.

It is offensive language to be sure to hear this health reform bill compared to the two most successful social insurance advancements – Social Security and Medicare – in this nation’s history. We’d do well to remember the current claims of historical significance for the health bill as the same elected officials begin work to diminish the same programs they claim to defend and honor.

And let’s not let the same people who reframed the health discussion as “health insurance reform” now turn it around and call it “healthcare reform,” OK? Let’s just leave it as they framed it to sell it to the Blue Dogs and the other fiscal conservatives.

Listen up to how they say the word. Entitlements. The word itself is already infused with negative connotations. So much so that Democrats who want to reassure the right wing of the nation that they are fiscally responsible are using the word with the same sort of negativity and sting that the Republicans used to own almost exclusively. Government entitlements. Oooh. That’s even scarier. The word “entitlement” has become synonymous with receiving something one does not deserve – a handout not earned or worse, something a person who didn’t work hard enough gets at the expense of the “rest of us.”

The Tea Party folks simply brought into the light and within camera range during the health insurance debate what we knew was there all along -- the racial slurs, slams against gays and the inflammatory words from those who claim a righteous “pro-life” position. Many of us knew these folks had a far right-wing leaning and could turn violent in speech and action with very little provocation.

But as the 111th Congress wraps up its work on the health insurance reform bill and the reconciliation effort, we’ll now hear a ramping up of the language to convince us that we’re going to attack the fraud and waste in “entitlements.” That’s code for calling those who avail themselves of Social Security benefits and Medicare benefits somehow undeserving or worse – somehow dirty and lazy and wasteful users of government-funded entitlements. For shame, for shame. Never mind that many of the same people who would begrudge you and me our entitlements don’t mind a bit accepting theirs via direct deposit every single month.

Read the news reports and you’ll see the reality that given the chance, even the Dems would like to slash Social Security and raise the age of eligibility and cut other benefits under Medicare. To say the people who celebrated Social Security and Medicare on March 23, 2010, in the White House as the health insurance bill is signed into law are among the group who would begrudge those same benefits to millions and millions of Americans in the weeks is to acknowledge what is already being foretold in the press (for instance, see the New York Times yesterday).

Entitlements. Government entitlements. Great big government entitlements. Of course they are coming after Social Security and Medicare next. All of them. Republicans love to shout about the dangers of entitlements but when really confronted by seniors and constituents on government benefits they will then deny they would end the programs all together if given the chance; and Democrats claim to be the creators and the defenders of the programs but then fail to actually protect and strengthen them. And our highest serving Democrat is taking a more direct aim at those entitlements.

This is ugly stuff, to be sure. But it’s not being sold in a very straightforward way. Imagine that.

From the White House website: In the Executive Order creating the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform: “The Commission shall propose recommendations that meaningfully improve the long-run fiscal outlook, including changes to address the growth of entitlement spending and the gap between the projected revenues and expenditures of the Federal Government.” So, off we go, fellow Americans. If you wrongly thought that paying into Social Security for decades was protection against poverty and a pension-free retirement no matter what twists and turns private pension plans have seen and if you wrongly thought your payment of Medicare premiums and taxes was protection from wanting for medical care or bankrupting yourself as a senior or in the event of severe disability, you are about to watch some pretty fancy footwork combined with offensive language making your hard work and reliance on these tried and true programs seem like you are nothing short of an irresponsible slug who ought to have had the good sense and money to not rely on your government for social insurance.

They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.
– Attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller, 1946, Germany.

You are a fiscal liability – my entitled fellow citizens. Will you yet be ready to stand up and defend what you are about to lose? If we do not stand together and defend our “entitlement” programs, we will surely watch them diminished and privatized as we swim in the language of political gamesmanship.

And losing Social Security and Medicare protections and benefits is a game none of us wants to play. The language of hatred includes the word “entitlement.” We need to stop that hateful talk while we can.

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