This Week’s Cartoon: Entitlements 101

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.


  • John

    Good point to bring up.

    There is a push now to use the term ‘earned benefits’ instead of ‘entitlements’. Same number of syllables, just as easy to say.

    I am making a conscious effort to start calling them that, because I like reality.

  • Elmore

    One of the trendy movements among right-wing politicians that I’ve noticed is the idea of making “entitlement” recipients submit to drug testing. Florida governor Rick Scott is at the forefront of this movement, and I’ve seen others campaign on the idea, such as a Republican candidate for lt. governor in Mississippi this summer.

    Just one little unforeseen glitch… what if welfare recipients PASS the test?

  • Kevin Moore

    Glad to see the Daily Kos commentary is improving in relevance and intelligence.

    I think the pejorative sense of entitlement, of “being entitled” will win out over the more neutral definition. Our political discourse distorts meaning for the sake of demonizing opponents. Taking care with our diction would lead us to an actual debate over issues, heaven forefend.

  • Jen Sorensen

    “Earned benefits”… I like that.

    Rick Scott is about the nuttiest governor in the country, as far as I can tell. He’s right up there with Jan Brewer, anyway.

    Kevin, I agree completely.

  • Tom

    I read on one web posting that the gentleman with the cranky billboard also received farm subsidies. I wasn’t able to confirm that with the online database for the Environmental Working Group (EWG), but maybe back when he was alive he did. So, should farmers getting crop subsidies be allowed to vote?

    Maybe if he had served in World War II he might have had a different view of such things as the GI Bill, the Veterans Administration, and even the humble PX system that freed soldiers from the predatory “sutlers” of the 19th Century.

    Veterans pensions, by the way, didn’t come along until the 1840s. The problem was that so many people were re-enlisting that the United States was in dangert of having a geriatric army. So, Teabaggers, is there anything in the Constitution that calls for Veterans Benefits? No? Are you, then, against Veterans Benefits?

    Here in Florida we keep hoping that Rick Scott will (a) be indicted by the Feds, (b) throw a Sarah Palin hissy-fit when he’s told he can’t do something and quit, or (c) spontaneously combust.

Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer Finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.