Leonard Zwelling

Crispen Sartwell teaches philosophy at Dickinson College and wrote the attached op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on September 16. It is worth a read. The gist is this. There are many people on television and the internet telling you what you deserve despite the fact they don’t know you or what you have done to deserve whatever it is they are selling.

This strikes me as very strange as it struck Mr. Sartwell.  Among the people telling me in particular what I deserve is Joe Namath who wants to make sure that I am getting all of my Social Security benefits. J J Walker does, too. A myriad of roofing, foundation and air conditioning companies are telling me what I deserve and surely the government is fond of doing the same when it comes to social programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and all the stuff in Biden’s $3.5 trillion social welfare program stymied in Congress now. Thank goodness people like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are less sure we deserve all that stuff and quite sure we can’t afford it.

It seems to me that the only thing that I deserve from the government, is protection from foreign invaders, a well-disciplined and efficiently functioning police and fire force, a fair justice system, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Note, that does not mean I deserve to be happy, only that I can pursue what will make me happy as long as I do it legally.

First, this deserving stuff is socialism taken to the highest level if the government is supposed to provide me with all of my needs and wants. It may be a good idea to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and provide basic medical care for citizens in need, BUT they don’t deserve it for simply existing. There ought to be a requirement for some service to deserve benefits.

The concept of deserving something implies that it has been earned. How have I earned my social security check? Answer—I paid into the system. I deserve it because I already paid. Most of the rest of the social contract founded in the 1930s and grown in the 1960s has created a large number of Americans dependent on the federal largesse and who feel they deserve it. It is perhaps this that so infuriated the Trump voters who felt they had earned what they had and that Mr. Trump was going to make sure they kept it and that their tax dollars were not given away to others who may think they deserve it, but the Trump voters think do not. This is a very crucial bit of politics worthy of deep consideration because these voters have not gone anywhere. They’ll be back. Just ask the GOP legislators who fear them.

It is one thing to deny rights to people as some Republicans wish to do with the right to choose or the right to vote. It is quite another to gather up money from many Americans to shell it out to those who think they deserve it.

One of the major tenets of conservatism is limited government. If government is to be responsible for providing benefits to those who think they deserve them without a rationale for those benefits, then I can surely see why the average Trump voter is incensed and why conservatives are angry right now.

This also strikes me as a problem in the service sector. Everyone expects a tip whether they provide good service or not. When I was a waiter, I assumed nothing about my tip. I figured I had to earn it. Training doctors also think they deserve limited hours. I don’t. I think these residents who go home at 5 PM are missing a lot about the natural history of disease and the management of complex medical problems which is not done on the clock.

Everyone thinks they deserve all kinds of things. This is foreign thinking to me. I was brought up to believe anything I got I had to earn and often, when I thought I deserved something, I didn’t get it. Heck, I hit four really good putts today for birdies and none went in. Did I deserve them to fall, too? That’s what’s great about golf. You rarely get what you deserve and often get what you don’t—good and bad.

Let’s forget about what we deserve and start worrying about what we earn. Focusing on what we deserve does us a disservice.

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