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Bill Gaventa: The politics of entitlement

Bill Gaventa: The politics of entitlement

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The Big Kahuna

I am old enough to remember that in the Reagan/Bush/Clinton era — there were diatribes against groups of people, mostly Black and other minorities, for their sense of entitlement. Welfare suddenly became a bad idea because it supposedly kept people from really working when they could. People decried “welfare queens” who drove fancy cars in urban ghettos, not realizing, like we do now, that many people could not invest in better housing because redlining kept them in proscribed areas, with the result that people could not use houses to build up equity like most of white America.

So, Bill Clinton and others changed things and the charges of “entitlement” went away, for the most part. I wonder these days if it is not time to bring them back.

This time it needs to be levied against those who fight ferociously to maintain subsidies to oil, gas and big agriculture. People complain about the cost of food stamps and other programs to help those who are poor, but they pale beside the subsidies and special favors that the government has doled out for large corporations to protect them against bad times (lower commodity prices) and give them very cheap access to new resources (leases on public lands).

The "entitlement" label needs to be stamped on large corporations who have fought for loopholes and tax credits that enable them to make billions in profit but not to pay anything in income tax, which means they are getting for free the public services such as roads, public safety and other tax benefits that the rest of us help pay for.

In fact, it has gotten to the point where cities compete so ferociously for new businesses or relocations that corporations have come to expect, i.e. feel entitled to, agreements that give them huge tax breaks for new ventures in a city or region. Sports team owners, already heads of multi-million-dollar organizations, feel entitled to get cities to cough up public funds for new stadiums. The list goes on and on.

But it is not just businesses and taxes. The single most egregious example of entitlement recently has been the outrageous lie by the former president that the election was rigged and fraudulent, and that, in effect, he was entitled to a second term of office. It could not be possible, in his illusions, that he was not elected by an overwhelming majority. He said it so often that millions bought into it, including the representatives from Texas and senators who wanted to question the vote, followed by, of course, the thousands who showed up on Jan. 6 with the belief that they could righteously do anything they wanted to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.

Now, of course, we are faced with the biggest sense of entitlement of all, the push by Republican legislatures around the country to restrict any provisions that made it easier for people to vote. If not so totally un-American and immoral, it is simply breathtaking in scope and intention. “We are entitled to control the process for voting, to do what we want to restrict any provisions that make it possible for a greater number of American citizens to vote.”

Why, we might ask? “Because we are trying to protect against voter fraud,” even if has been proven to be virtually non-existent.

It is, of course, blatantly obvious, and so stated by people like Sen. Ted Cruz, that the real reason is that otherwise the GOP will not stand a chance to win in future elections. Fear trumps principle, pun intended.

In other words, “We are entitled to stay in power. We represent the ‘true’ (i.e. white) America. We should not have to work hard to pull our party’s positions and popularity up by its bootstraps. We should not really have to compete with others on the public stage. You should not question our right to tell lies on social media about what is going on. You should not try to make gun rights and ownership the equivalent of the right to drive, with training, registration and insurance. And most importantly of all, you should not question the most important value of all, the right to make a financial killing off of the barely livable wages that we pay many of our ‘essential workers.’ ”

If America’s core values are life, liberty and the equality of opportunity, with justice for all, then this sense of entitlement is heresy, claiming privilege and position over equality of opportunity, power over justice and the importance of some lives over millions of others.

The lockstep march by GOP legislatures around the country to restrict access to voting, when adherence to American values should be dictating how we can ensure everyone has more equal and easier means to vote, is simply an indication of a sense of entitled class and aristocracy, the very kind of government the American revolution was trying to overthrow. “We have the power to do this, so principle be damned.”

Afraid of work? Afraid of competing on a level playing field? Afraid of organizing districts so they make more sense to regional senses of community? Afraid of losing cronyism? Afraid of getting your hands dirty in negotiation and compromising?

If that is not entitlement, I don’t know what is. It is time to do away with that kind of public welfare.

Former Wacoan Bill Gaventa is a clergyman and educator living in Austin.

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