One of the things that puzzles us is the confusion we sometimes see over the word “entitlement.”
This fuzziness should not exist. “Entitlement” is not a term of art, such as lawyers sometimes use to make matters less clear to outsiders. It is an ungainly word, and yet the definition could not be clearer.
An entitlement is something to which you are entitled. It is something you have a right to claim. For example, Social Security: You pay into it and you are entitled to a payout, typically in retirement, although it also offers other benefits. This is why Social Security is called an entitlement.
However, there is a meme we see that seems to recirculate on social media like a mouse trapped in a whirlpool. It is just text:
“I PAID CASH for my Social Security insurance. Our benefits are NOT some kind of charity or handout! Congressional benefits: premium federal health care, outrageous retirement packages, 67 paid holidays, three weeks paid vacation, unlimited paid sick days!
“Now THAT’S welfare!
“And they have the nerve to call my retirement an entitlement?”
Nevermind that members of Congress and the more numerous staffers for the most part buy insurance through work, the same way tens of millions of other Americans do; and that they do not get outrageous retirement packages, unless we are also going to say that teachers and firefighters get outrageous retirement packages. Has there ever been so much misdirected anger in one place as this?
And it is all occasioned by one word misunderstood.
We look for precision and clarity in language, among other things. We also strive, often fruitlessly, for neutrality. This is why, for example, we often call the two sides of the abortion debate “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” It is not necessarily because they are descriptive but because this is the closest thing to neutral ground we can find. To keep the peace, minimize harm and get on to the news, we are inclined to let each side brand itself.
We used to sometimes call people who had entered the country surreptitiously “illegal immigrants” or “illegal aliens.” Some politicians still do, such as President Donald Trump (who has also called them “animals”). We will quote them, but we seldom do that anymore ourselves, as we and others have become convinced it is sub-optimal to call a person illegal rather than an act.
It does harm.
That is why we now typically say they are “undocumented” or “unauthorized.” We are still describing people as well as acts, but it seems to us less harsh and, we hope, a little more neutral.
Rep. Susan Lontine, a Democrat from Denver, says she is introducing a bill in the state Legislature that removes the term “illegal alien” from the one place it appears in state statutes, in a 2006 law that prohibits immigrants without legal residency from being hired for public contracts, according to The Colorado Sun.
Note that if this change is made – and it is a reasonable one – immigrants without legal residency still cannot be hired for these public contracts. They just won’t be called “illegal aliens” any longer in this one place in the law.
It is a small gain for no cost, but the change is not just cosmetic. If restoring a modicum of dignity to people who already face steep hurdles to rooting themselves in this nation and our state is free, it would be churlish to refuse it.