That's a question that University of Alaska president (until June) Patrick Gamble asked at least two people who spoke to the board of regents last Friday about keeping Tanaina Child Development Center open and on campus after the University of Alaska Anchorage administration abruptly notified the Center that it would have to move, soon.
I've been thinking about how to write about this pre-school closing by the university. (It's not exactly a done deal - there's a task force that's been set up to find some options.) I understand the bigger contextual issues, but I needed to get my facts about the specifics at UAA better. I went to the board of regents meeting Friday and task force meeting Friday afternoon and so I have more facts. Too many for one post. So I'm going to start here with the president's use of the word 'entitlement.'
I try pay attention to words, and as most of you are probably aware, 'entitlement' is one, heavily loaded term these days. The New York Times pointed out how Mitt Romney's team was using the term back in 2011, so this isn't anything new:
"Romney and his aides have designed his rhetoric to define pretty much all spending on entitlements, including provisions for the injured, unemployed, sick, disabled or elderly as benefits to the poor who, Romney implies, are undeserving. And it doesn’t matter whether the money to pay for these programs comes from employer and employee contributions and not just tax revenue — they are all under suspicion.
Will the United States be an Entitlement Society or an Opportunity Society? In an Entitlement Society, government provides every citizen the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to innovate, pioneer or take risk. In an Opportunity Society, free people living under a limited government choose whether or not to pursue education, engage in hard work, and pursue the passion of their ideas and dreams. If they succeed, they merit the rewards they are able to enjoy. [emphasis added]
Basically, we have the lazy welfare cheats who want government to supply them with everything versus the Horatio Alger go-getter who makes his fortune on his own. This view of the world helps explain why people can be against Obamacare - they see it as lazy people getting something for nothing. Which is how the Koch Brothers (I guess that's becoming the metaphor for those on the right who want to shape public opinion to reflect their political interests) want people to think. In this model, people are poor because they choose to be and they prefer to live the great life provided by welfare.
An opposing model, one that is much more realistic for me, is that some people in this society either are born into privilege, get lots of lucky breaks, and/or genetically have been blessed with the right skill set that can be successful in today's United States. The rest are blocked by big and little structural barriers - from parents who were ill-prepared to raise them, schools that teach to academically (or athletically) oriented kids, a society that assumes certain skin colors and other physical characteristics are less intelligent, more violent, and otherwise threatening or disgusting, to student loans that force them to get any job they can just to pay off the debt. (This is just scratching the surface, of course.)
In any case, it was disturbing to hear Gamble question people about whether they thought the Tanaina location was an 'entitlement.' It was like a trap question - what would have happened if they said yes? They didn't, and he said, "That's good, because you're going to have to compromise." The very fact that he used that word in the context was scary. Was he, in fact, trying to trap them into admitting they thought it was an entitlement? Was it just his own emotional reaction? Is he just around people who use that term so much that he doesn't even realize others see it as a code for bad and undeserving?
It's also kind of strange, because by my calculations, Gamble is getting what some would call 'entitlements' in the guise of military and Alaska Railroad retirement checks that boost his annual income from the University to close to $500,000 a year. And on top of that he wanted, and got the board to agree (before they changed their minds) a $320,000 longevity bonus. Of course, I don't think that pension money is an 'entitlement' but Republican governors in Illinois, New Jersey, and other states have used attacking pensions as part of their budget reducing strategy. Are there abuses of some pensions? Of course, just as there are abuses in all systems that are made up of people. But, that is yet another post.
Let me say that the news isn't all bad. Going to the meetings was a good idea because I've gained some factual data that changes my view of things to a certain extent and I hope to lay this out in future posts.