So I really did see this billboard over the summer, on I-5 in southern Washington. Anyone who travels between Portland and Seattle with any frequency is aware of the cultural institution known as the “Uncle Sam billboard.” It always has some extreme right-wing slogan next to a likeness of Uncle Sam. Apparently a farmer started it decades ago, and now the fabled sign is maintained by his son. (I neglected to include Uncle Sam when I drew the cartoon; I was so gobsmacked by the sentiment that I forgot all about him. And the internet tells me belatedly that the exact wording was “Should people receiving entitlements be allowed to vote?”, but I’m too tired to fix it now.)
Clearly the sign is the handiwork of an ignoramus, but it touches on something that’s been bothering me for a while. Many Americans don’t understand the term “entitlements.” Anyone hoping to preserve the social safety net should avoid the word, which makes Social Security and Medicare sound like frivolous handouts to undeserving snots. The fact that anti-poverty measures like food stamps are also referred to as entitlement programs only adds to the confusion, not that denying voting rights to poor people is any less reprehensible.
I wouldn’t dismiss this billboard guy as a lone crackpot, either. TPM recently reported on conservative columnist Matthew Vadum, who suggested that registering poor people to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals. I smell a meme.