Day: September 19, 2012

Entitlement at home and abroad

The Mitt Romney video has set me thinking about entitlement.  I have sat at a lot of fancy dinner tables in fabulous digs with the wealthy and powerful on several continents.  The conversation is remarkably similar:  success often breeds self-confidence and disdain for the powerless.

I do know people who feel we should all be entitled to food, housing and healthcare, not to mention education, free speech, equal opportunity and other things that even the right would agree with.  But I know many more people who want to work for those goodies.  As Mitt Romney so cleverly tried to turn it around yesterday, most people want to earn enough to pay income tax.  In fact, the reason Repubican administrations have generally favored lowering taxes on the poor–even giving them subsidies–is to encourage them to work.

More interesting are the people in the video, whose clinking silver and china are a fitting accompaniment to Romney’s Ayn Randish refrain.  They are the ones who seem to me to feel entitled:  to their wealth, to their privilege and to their influence.  Few of them likely pay more than Mitt Romney’s 14-15% in income tax.  Folks with $50k to spend on dinner have smart lawyers and accountants who keep them well under a working person’s tax rate.  Romney’s comment that he would be better off running for president as a Latino betrays this profound sense of entitlement:  he imagines himself as a Latino with the same inherited wealth and privilege he in fact grew up with, not one who had to work his way up, as did his once welfare-receiving father.

There is a similar sense of entitlement among Romney and the guests when it comes to foreign affairs.  Romney says it is difficult to imagine a Palestinian state because then the Palestinians would control the border of the West Bank with Jordan and even an airport.  It is a short logical leap to the conclusion that Israel should continue the occupation of the West Bank without accepting the Palestinians as citizens, thus institutionalizing permanently the privileges of occupation.  If this is not entitlement, I don’t know what is.

The Republicans’ favorite Israeli leader, Benyamin Netanyahu, betrays a similar sense of entitlement when he demands that the president of the United States specify a “red line” for Iran’s nuclear program.  It apparently hasn’t occurred to the man David Gregory crowned “leader of the Jewish people” that the president of the United States is first and foremost accountable to the American people.  I want a president who does what is best for America, even if I am Jewish.  Obama has made it clear he will not permit Iran to get nuclear weapons.  The American political system will hold him accountable to that commitment.  The notion that a president might specify a trigger for going to war in order to satisfy a foreign leader is truly distasteful to me.

Romney and Netanyahu should have a look in the mirror.  It is the privileged who too often feel entitled.  Most of the underprivileged do not.  Palestinians or poor Americans, most want equal rights and opportunity.  It would be a lot smarter to offer them something substantial than to expect them to vote for you if you don’t.

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