Dependency and entitlement: whose head stuck in the sand?

The 47% video has highlighted a sharp difference in worldview between conservatives and advocates of fairness/social justice.  The deep outrage we’ve seen within the latter group suggests an unwillingness to accept that entitlement and dependency are real phenomena stemming from human experience.

Just as with Mr. Obama’s “You didn’t build that” snippet, we could get lost in parsing what Mr. Romney meant.  But the stakes are different here.  If Mr. Obama is culpable for his quote, it is more a matter of worldview than of character.  But if Mr. Romney is guilty in the way sensationalists claim, then we must believe that he has a shriveled heart that is little more than a black lump of coal.  This is just absurd given his sacrifices and dedication to family, church, and country.  So we can and ought to dismiss this cartoon version of Romney.

The real question is not whether all of the 47% feel entitled and are dependent, but whether anyone in the group could be characterized as such.  Of course no one really thinks grandma or a worker retired on disability suffer from a sense of entitlement.  But this is precisely the interpretation mainstream journalists have been running with all week.

Such a hard prosecution is one half an insidious double standard.  On the one hand, the commentariat is completely okay suggesting that affluent Mr. Romney is out of touch, doesn’t care or relate to everyday struggles, or even that he wants to “pull the ladder up” behind him.  On the other hand, it’s utterly unthinkable to suggest that even one poor or working class person might be beholden to entitlement or dependency.  Per the dictates of political correctness, to do so would be an unconditional surrender to the worst bias and stigma.

This rule cannot persist.  Lest we go the way of Greece, our public discourse must accommodate some way of talking about these very real problems.  Rich, poor, and middle class folks are created equal in a real sense.  Across the dividing lines, all have intuition and faculties of reason.  The discipline of economics operates on the assumption that we are all rational creatures, agents who, whether consciously or not, respond to incentive.  We couldn’t escape it even if we tried.  Yet, big government politicians and guilt-ridden journalists would rather ditch this common sense understanding of humanity for the comfortable materialist fantasy that they took up at university and never quite abandoned.

There are all sorts of ways to describe the perils of incentive that effect the wide umbrella of welfare and entitlement transfers the federal government offers: rent seeking, moral hazard, tragedy of the commons, crowding out, rising expectations.  People’s behavior changes in response to conditions.  The sputtering, moribund economies of many European social democracies attest to what happens when workers secure the right to too generous a menu of entitlements.

Those who have seized on the 47% comments have highlighted a dangerous state of denial in our country.  Dependency and entitlement are heavy clouds that threaten to burst cultural and economic disaster on us.  The way some react to these words though make it seem as if their heads are stuck in the sand.

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Mitt eats vegan burrito in his “Darkest Hour”

In the wake of the great, surreptitiously recorded Romney fundraiser video, the media continue their long stumble in the wilderness. Rather than press on policy, they pursue the “process story.” Just look to the Washington Post, which in declaring “Mitt Romney’s Darkest Hour,” proceeds to analyze how analysis will lead to soul searching and second-guessing (these in themselves being more analysis). This is supposed to doom Romney–but not definitively.

At Yahoo News, Holly Bailey continues her embedded coverage on the Romney plane. She maintains the edgy style that Ron Fournier sullied the Associated Press brand with in 2008: ditching the pretense of neutrality for moody framing devices and the liberty to issue gut calls.  Ever out to paint Romney as dry and lame, the most valuable detail in one of Bailey’s recent reports was what Romney had for breakfast: a vegan burrito.

What madness is this: using so many words to say nothing at all. Good thing newsprint today is made of electrons instead of wood pulp.  It lessens the waste.  All too many journalists dwell on trivia while major questions, such as what President Obama really intends to do about this anemic recovery, go unasked, let alone unanswered.

Higher up at Yahoo News, the slide continues apace. Once, stories from AP, AFP, and Reuters populated the front page. Now, almost every “news” link there takes the reader to one of Yahoo’s many branded blogs.  And from the looks of things, the leanings of recently sacked political editor David Chalian are still intact. It was he who remarked over an open mic during the Republican National Convention, “They are happy to have a party with black people drowning.”

Away from the open mic, writers signal subtle derision toward the Least Favored Candidate.  A blogger at Christian Science Monitor’s Decoder Wire responds to Romney’s 47% remarks with an “Umm, OK.”  Follow that with a cherry-picked characterization of the governor as a “plutocrat.”

So is the revelation of the 47% video Romney’s “Darkest Hour?” Conservatives seem to be shrugging it off well enough. Per Bailey’s report, Romney was all smiles, burrito eating aside.

One might point to pseudo-conservative David Brooks’ disappointment with Romney.  He compared  the governor to Gilligan’s Island character Thurston Howell, III.  This led MSNBC’s Dave Weigel to tweet, “When you’ve lost David Brooks, you’ve lost middle America.” A responding tweet set the record straight: “BS. When you’ve lost Brooks, you’ve lost weaselly coastal elites.” After all, David Brooks is the Alan Colmes of All Things Considered: a weak ideological opponent trotted out to slake the blood lust of a partisan audience.

The mainstream media will continue to bury Romney with process stories as long as the news industry’s systemic jet stream will allow it.  But neither apocalyptic visions, ad hominem attacks, nor mundane meal descriptions will satisfy undecided voters who want to make a real, informed decision come November.  Those who look beyond the superficial potshots to answer questions of character and policy will find Mr. Romney to be wholly worthy as our next commander-in-chief.

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