Entitlement, Equality, and Earned Success

by Benjamin Domenech on 12:20 pm July 25, 2011

In recent weeks the radical left has attacked House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) for his purchase of an expensive bottle of wine at a hotel restaurant in Washington, DC. The incident reveals much about the nation’s current political conflict over entitlement policy—but not for the reasons the left might wish.

Ryan was accosted at his table by a liberal academic for his purchase, while eating dinner with a pair of friendly economists. The story died out when it became apparent there was no ethical wrongdoing on Ryan’s part—he paid for the bottle despite drinking only a glass, mindful of the stringent regulations against gifts.

Frustrated at finding no regulation broken, the left attempted to use Ryan’s wine selection to suggest hypocrisy, considering his calls for entitlement reform. Far-left author Timothy Egan, an opinion writer for The New York Times, hyperventilated over it, claiming the incident was “instructive as a picture of power,” an illustration of how “Republicans’ corporate overlords … jerk their chain” to maintain “the policies of economic inequality.”

Egan’s criticism of Ryan for daring to enjoy a good glass of wine while calling for the means-testing of Medicare and raising the retirement age ignores, of course, the fact that President Barack Obama himself has publicly endorsed such solutions. But that is different, somehow.

It’s all too easy for Egan to get away with this ignorant blather, for much of the press agree with such class-warfare rhetoric. Egan, like so many others on the left today, apparently does not understand the vast difference between employment and entitlement. He implicitly rejects Calvin Coolidge’s reminder, so relevant to today’s political debates: “Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.”

There’s a simple truth about how we respond to the success of others. Some people covet what others have, and seek to destroy them or steal it away by force of law. Others decide to work hard and earn it for themselves.

The opportunity to choose the latter is the wonderful thing about America: The barriers of class are nothing compared to the will and capability of human endeavor. With commitment, hard work, and long hours, you can achieve a better life not just for yourself, but for your family. A kid who had nothing, who was abandoned by his father, can, with the help of a mother and grandparents who loved him, become a college graduate, a bestselling author, a millionaire, and now our president.

My grandfather was one of ten children, born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1923. He had no royal blood, no riches. Yet today he is buried in Arlington Cemetery among the heroes, awarded in death for what he earned in life in thirty years of service to the nation.

That’s what the current budget debate is all about: whether our children will have the same opportunities, the same chance to make something of themselves, to pursue the life they want and pass it on.

Most Americans still prefer to work, to strive, to make something of themselves—not to fall into the maw of welfare and food stamps. They know the difference between equality under law and enforced equality of outcome. They innately understand the value of earned success over entitlement. They fundamentally accept Margaret Thatcher’s point that the essence of government is to ensure everyone has the “right to work as he will, to spend what he earns, to own property, and to have the State as servant, not as master.”

Most Americans want employment, not entitlement, and when a politician drinks wine in a DC restaurant, advocatory journalists’ disingenuous appeals to envy deserve nothing but contempt. For generations, Americans have understood that the sensible response to other’s wealth is not to covet it and demand government take from them and give to us. It’s to look at what they have and set one’s mind to the pursuit of it, to hard work and effort. It’s to say: “They earned that life. And so will I. Because I am an American. And I can.”

Benjamin Domenech (bdomenech@heartland.org) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and editor of ReformMedicaid.org, a Web site dedicated to innovative entitlement reform.

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