It is used to refer to the federal benefits people received.
Not any more.
Republicans have been working to change that word into a negative to make it easier for Congress to cut social programs.
While an entitlement used to be a positive — indicating a citizen’s right to the benefits of a program they paid into — the term is now used to portray social spending that’s out of control and people getting something they may not be entitled to get.
It even made it into last year’s presidential election when Mitt Romney tore into the 47 percent of Americans who “believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
Republicans in Congress, sensing victory, are now working hard to attach a similar negative feeling to Social Security and Medicare.
It wasn’t that long ago that Americans regarded both programs as special: “The checks will come to you as a right,” according to the 1936 government pamphlet that introduced Social Security above.
President Lyndon Johnson said the elderly “are entitled” to medical care when he signed the legislation to establish Medicare.
The word “entitlement” has been non-controversial for decades, simply reflecting a person’s eligibility for the popular government programs.
But that’s changing, and Republicans now hope they can attach a negative feeling to these programs to build support for ultimately cutting them.
At one time Democrats wanted to call Social Security and Medicare “earned benefits” programs instead of “entitlements.”
It never caught on.
The Republicans have now framed the debate.
It’s an old political trick.
It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.
You say something enough times and people believe it.
And that’s why you hear so much about a politician “staying on message”.
We really are easy to fool.