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Using the word "entitlements" to refer to SS, Medicare and Medicaid is a somewhat contentious issue around here. Alot of that has to do with how the Democrats (including the President) use the word, which isn't surprising given how the Dems buy into the right-wing framework on deficits and the economy as a whole.

From what I've witnessed in the various DKOs discussions on the E-word, the people that are okay with using it usually do so with that patented Democratic resignation towards overcoming anything that the right-wing does, especially in terms of messaging. Often the question put to them is "Why not call them 'earned benefits', on account of, you know, having to pay into the system your whole life to earn the benefits?" The common reply I see is "Well then the right-wingers will just demonize that term too, so it's hopeless!" and we all go around accepting right-wing terminology like it's a law of nature.

I'd have thought the negative connotations of using "entitlements" to refer to SS, Medicare and Medicaid would be obvious enough that there would be no real discussion needed on this topic, but... This is an explicitly partisan Democratic website. So I'm gonna go through this real slow. I'm going to start by typing out the word "entitlements" and then bolding the part of the word that's a problem. Ready?


There. Right there. See it? How the word "entitle" is in bold? Have you ever heard that word bandied about by the right-wingers in your life?

For example, "Goddamn liberals just feel entitled to government handouts."

"Fucking blacks think they're entitled to a slice of my paycheck."

"Oh so you think you're entitled to government services bailing you out all the time?"

That's sort of been a running theme with the right wing for a long time, and even moreso since the Reagan era: the idea that "liberals" as well as everyone who's not white feels entitled to free stuff from the government that they don't deserve. There's no real problem with the healthcare system, it's just the Takers feeling entitled to free shit from the government, amirite? They feel entitled to things without having to work for them. That's the idea, anyway.

So now that we understand why the word "entitled" has been used almost exclusively as a cudgel-word by the right wing, perhaps it is easier to see why using the term "entitlements" to describe SS and Medicare is done deliberately to maximize the negative connotations commonly associated with that word in society today. It's attaching the "moocher" stigma to Social Security.

Of course SS and Medicare are not "free services"; we all pay into SS and (supposedly) earn our share when it comes time to retire. Yes we are "entitled" to that, because we earned it. This is why "earned benefits" are a more accurate term for the programs: because it's actually a true descriptor for them.

"But Boogalord, they'll just demonize the term 'earned benefits!"

They can try. But if Democrats actually go out and make a thing out of using "earned benefits" to describe social programs that are widely popular and widely used among the American public, it's going to be alot harder to demonize the phrase "earned benefits" than "entitlements". Again, "earned benefits" is not only a more accurate descriptor, it's a phrase that isn't loaded by years and years of right-wing venom.

I hope I've helped make this clear. Do you guys seriously wonder why we're losing the message war?

Of course, I've only touched on the Republican side of using "entitlements". Democrats have accepted that term along with most other aspects of right-wing deficit hysteria, and they use "entitlements" because they too are open to "reforming" the social safety net. The term "entitlements" makes it seem easier to swallow any kind of cuts to the programs; after all, we don't want people in society to feel too entitled, do we? And everyone knows the programs are going to run out of money soon, right?

Getting the Dems to stop using the term is probably a lost cause because they're clearly not interested in actually doing what needs to be done with those programs (expanding them). But please, do yourself a favor, and the next time you're involved with a discussion on "entitlements".... Don't call them that. I really don't know how else to spell it out.

Originally posted to Boogalord on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 02:04 PM PDT.

Also republished by Political Language and Messaging.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (14+ / 0-)

    Banking on the American people to be able to sort all this out and declare the adult in the room the winner is a very big bet. -Digby

    by Boogalord on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 02:04:48 PM PDT

  •  This smacks of the whole (11+ / 0-)

    "We won't say liberal, we'll say progressive" bullshit that I remember burbling ever since the Bush v Dukakis campaign.

    Running from a term gives it power.

    No. Stand by it. They are entitlements because WE THE PEOPLE ARE ENTITLED TO THEM. They are established as, essentially, legal rights.

    We are entitled to Social Security because we earned it. We paid into it our entire careers and when we retire we deserve to reap the rewards.

    People play too damn many word games rather than do what they should do, which is defend government programs that are to the benefit of the American people.

    "Much of movement conservatism is a con and the base is the marks." -- Chris Hayes

    by raptavio on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 02:14:57 PM PDT

    •  Do you deny "entitlements" was a term (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      first propagated by right-wingers, or at the very least, people who want to cut the program?

      Words matter. Who says those words, the specific words themselves and the context they're used in all add up to how the general national dialogue plays out.

      Just because "entitlements" is a technically correct term for SS (you pay in, you are entitled) doesn't mean there's no negative connotation. This is America. "Earned" always sounds better than "entitled".

      Why would you want to use a word that's loaded with years worth of derisive ire to describe the most important domestic programs in the country, especially when both parties seem like they're getting ready to cut it when it should be expanded?

      Banking on the American people to be able to sort all this out and declare the adult in the room the winner is a very big bet. -Digby

      by Boogalord on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 02:22:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Actually, "entitlements" is a dysphemism-- (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bakeneko, jayden

    an effort to make a good thing sound bad. The proper term is "RIGHTS"

    Sustenance, shelter, bodily integrity, medical care and mobility are human rights.

    Why have the Cons arrogated the term "right"?  So we won't use it. What really upsets them? When we point out they are wrong. Why does it upset them? Because, in their binary world, what is wrong is bad and subject to being destroyed. It is a frightful world of their own making. All we can do is demonstrate that being wrong is not the end of the world.

  •  You keep using that word... (8+ / 0-)

    I don't think it means what you think it means.

    The fact is they are entitlements, because we ARE entitled to them, having paid for them.

    Running away from the word just makes Repugs emboldened in their attacks on it, just as running away from the label Liberal did.

    When we stopped running from Liberal it stopped being useful to them, which is why they now have to use words like Marxist and Socialist.

    Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them - Thomas Jefferson 30 July, 1816

    by Roiling Snake Ball on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 02:26:42 PM PDT

  •  Rec'd for the title alone. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Take the language back!

  •  if you get a temporary boost to food stamps (0+ / 0-)

    as was the case in 2009, that was written into the law as being temporary....are you entitled to that added benefit forever?  Or, was it like a temporary price reduction, that lasts until a finite date?

    Entitlement, as a term, doesn't refer to a benefit, at least in my mind, but rather how those who receive come to define it after some time.  The same thing happened with the Bush Tax cuts.  They were always designed to sunset after ten years or so....but when it came time to sunset them, they had become an entitlement.  The "take away" that was always part of the deal, was seen as an unacceptable cut by those who had become accustomed to the lower tax rate.

    And believe me, I remember a lot of Kossacks here who argued that $400K a year wasn't really that much of an income.  They were more than happy to receive that tax cut extension.  They even felt entitled to it.

    Through early morning fog I see visions of the things to be the pains that are withheld for me I realize and I can see...

    by Keith930 on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 02:31:08 PM PDT

  •  Part of our problem is that Republican (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mark Mywurtz, NonnyO, HarpboyAK

    authoritarians are totally down with unified Frank Luntz/George Orwell Newspeak/Dog Whistle messaging, and Democrats take the attitude that you can't tell them anything about messaging because that's so Republican/authoritarian/Orwellian and everybody should be free to express him or herself in his or her own way. Also, Democrats are aware that words do not have inherent meaning, but mean only what you apply them to, and have a problem with anybody who can't be bothered to find out what that is, and wish to assume that Democrats are evil liars no matter what the topic is.

    Also, there are more of us, but we don't vote our numbers until the other side gets us angry. Which the other side is doing quite spectacularly these days.

    We should also speak of investment, not spending, for most government purchasing and salaries, except when it is actually wasteful spending, as in a lot of military and security nonsense.

    Nevertheless, we are winning the messaging war where it counts, with the young people who replace more and more of the Angry White Guys every year.

    Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

    by Mokurai on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 02:40:57 PM PDT

    •  I forgot to mention subsidies (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and tax cuts under actual waste, fraud, and abuse. Also deregulation. There is more, but those are the most important parts, so I will leave the rest for now.

      Then there is this, apropos of entitlements from the US Constitution, Article I, Section 9:

      No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.
      See the self-proclaimed Southern Aristocracy, who then assure angry poor Whites that they are Nature's noblemen, in contrast to the scurvy Yankee rogues and tyrants and the evil racist minorities, etc., etc. and OMG! He's Blaaaaack!!! and Darwin is the worst of the worst of the atheists for claiming that White people are descended from Black Africans just like everybody else.

      Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

      by Mokurai on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 03:24:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks, this one's bugged me for a long time. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Roger Fox, NonnyO

    I worked for the money I contributed to Social Security and Medicare.  I worked hard for it.  But I began to get a sneaking suspicion in my early 20's (about time that the gov't decided it was cool to "borrow" from my contributions to pay for their various war/drug/oil/domination agendas) that I'd never see any of it.  That was 30 years ago, give or take, and I still believe I'll never see any of the money I entrusted the government to manage for me until I got too old to work.  I'm really sick of this country.  It's sad to me that neither of my bright, well-educated twenty-something children believe they will raise their families here, but if I were there age I'd feel the same way.  In fact, I can't in good conscience encourage them to stay here.

    It's not an entitlement, it's a promise that's being broken.  Or, to be more precise, it's theft.  

    •  Pretty strong claim, care to back it up? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      SO its true SS is broke?

      .................expect us......................... FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

      by Roger Fox on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 03:18:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  If what you are entitled to (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      isn't an entitlement, then please define entitlement as you see it.

      •  That's not the point (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Boogalord, nancyjones

        It may be true, but you aren't paying attention.  We have let the Repukes turn the word into something that it does not mean, which is why we should adopt a term that more precisely defines what those entitlements are, and one which they will have much more of a problem turning into a negative term:  EARNED BENEFITS.

        "Everybody wants to go to Heaven but nobody wants to die" --- Albert King

        by HarpboyAK on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 08:38:46 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, I am paying attention (0+ / 0-)

          I'm disagreeing that it's important.

          I would like someone who thinks the word is now dirty to tell me what the new definition is. I would think people who vehemently declare that Social Security is not an entitlement would be willing to define entitlement for us, but I've asked several people and not gotten a response.

          In any case I don't believe the word entitlement threatens Social Security and Medicare. We don't need to defend these these programs to the public; public support for them remains very high. What we have to defend them against is Democrats who will collaborate to weaken them. If our party stands firm the Republicans cannot touch these programs - but our own president is planning to cut benefits, and our own leaders in Congress are looking like they're going to acquiesce.

          That is what we need to worry about. Who we need to direct our efforts to is our party's Congressional leaders. We don't need to persuade them that these are earned benefits. They know what they are. What we need to persuade them of is that abdication on this issue will be bad for the future of the Democratic Party.

  •  Republicans are anti-semantic... (5+ / 0-)

    The root of entitlement is entitle, which according to means "[...] a legal right or a just claim to receive or do something [...]".

    Inside of me are two dogs. One is mean and evil. The other is gentle and good. The two dogs fight all the time. Which dog wins? The one I feed the most.

    by bakeneko on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 02:47:42 PM PDT

  •  Right wing propaganda (0+ / 0-)

    GOP language make them sound racist and unsympathetic and pro rich.  If I was their adviser I would instead emphasize on abuse and fraud in the federal programs which we all agree that there is. There are some like the octomom who dream of having many children to obtain government benefits. this is the common ground that will even independents and democrats can agree to work on.

    wall Street Casino is the root of the problem. Don't call them banks.

    by timber on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 02:56:46 PM PDT

  •  Entitled is in the 1935 SS law 9 times (4+ / 0-)

    Title I, section 202.

    .................expect us......................... FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

    by Roger Fox on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 03:04:07 PM PDT

  •  Agree with this diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HarpboyAK, Boogalord

    For a party that is often too concerned about political correctness and "bad" words, democrats are stunningly bad at messaging to the general populace amazingly unaware of how important messaging is.  If our party were committed to BOTH progressive values AND selling them, the GOP would have never survived to the the 21st century.

    Political compass: -8.75 / -4.72

    by Mark Mywurtz on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 03:26:28 PM PDT

  •  Entitlements, entitlements, entitlements. (4+ / 0-)

    Entitlements, entitlements, entitlements. Entitlements, entitlements, entitlements. Entitlements, entitlements, entitlements. Entitlements, entitlements, entitlements. Entitlements, entitlements, entitlements. Entitlements, entitlements, entitlements. Entitlements, entitlements, entitlements. Entitlements, entitlements, entitlements. Entitlements, entitlements, entitlements. Entitlements, entitlements, entitlements. Entitlements, entitlements, entitlements.

    This does NOT make me part of the problem. What makes people part of the problem is running away from perfectly legitimate words just because talk-radio assholes say them with a dismissive tone of voice.

    See this diary: A million Entitlements

  •  It's a word with negative connotations. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HarpboyAK, Boogalord

    People can explain away it's legitimacy and correct use all they want but it doesn't change the negative reaction it engenders in people.

    The only way that will change is when DEMS are willing to stop conversations in their tracks and correct those who use terms like "entitlements" with a condescending sneer in an attempt to suggest they aren't earned benefits.

    Democrats do nothing whenever someone calls our party the "Democrat Party" because it's believed that ignoring the term would make its use go away. It's not working. The correct response is to stop the conversation right then and there and say "Please use the correct term when addressing me or my political party. Save your childish name calling for someone else." If you don't respect yourself enough to care what people call you then why should anyone else? Being an "adult in the room" doesn't mean you just ignore the bad behavior swirling around you. It means you take the time to school the dumbfucks who act like disruptive bullies. We wouldn't be in half the messes we are in today if we stood up to the conservative douchebaggery with a consistent and concerted effort. And correcting language is a huge part of that.

    When I was younger if someone called me "faggot" I would stop right then and there, swirl around, look them straight in the eye and hiss "That's MR. Faggot to you, missy!" with serious don't-fuck-with-me venom. You can take language back but you have to be forceful about it.

  •  Words have both denotations and connotations (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The former are the literal meanings of the words (and there's no real problem with "entitlement" on that end); the latter are the "baggage" the words carry, the associations that they call up. It's with the connotations that we run into problems with "entitlement"; they've shifted over the years, to the point where the term now carries negative baggage that it didn't back in the 1930s (SS) or even 1960s (Medicare).

    It's similar to the situation in the skeptic community with "ignorant", which has in the US developed a secondary connotation of lacking, not knowledge, but manners. Therefore, while it's technically accurate, and shouldn't be insulting, to refer to someone as "ignorant" based on their lack of knowledge, it engenders unnecessary resentment and therefore fails to get the point across. And effective communication is about getting your point across, not being pedantically correct.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: we as progressives have a major problem with expecting that people will work to understand our messages, as if we were teachers and our audience were students. That's simply a fantasy, one that our opponents aren't stuck in. Obviously they go too far in the other direction, telling people what they want to hear regardless of whether or not it's true (which is the formal philosophical definition of "bullshit"; we certainly don't need to do that.

    Personally, as a physician, I would be very concerned at a child becoming febrile after having ingested bleach or had it shot up his rectum—Orac (Respectful Insolence)

    by ebohlman on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 05:53:30 PM PDT

  •  Obama continually shows us that he is not really (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    one of us.

    He isn't a liberal by a long chalk.  He continually shows it by doing things like cutting SS withholdings by 2% instead of increasing it by 2%, by calling the ACA Obamacare, and SS and Medicare/aid "entitlements."

    Of course he also did nothing when Rahm called us retards, and has yet to see a potential war and say No.

    He has already said that our government held trust funds are on the table in yet another rape job called a "Grand Bargain."

    I get so weary of voting for people I don't want in office simply because the alternatives are so G awful.

  •  I call them 'Goddamn Entitlements' because... (0+ / 0-)

    ...I've paid into them all my life and I am GODDAMN ENTITLED TO THEM.

    And any goddamn teabaggers who try to take them from me will find out what that exactly means.

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