The Entitlement Society

Posted: Nov 06, 2007 12:01 AM
The Entitlement Society

This has to be the Entitlement Age, because nobody I know of would call it the Age of Common Sense.

You take these two, I suppose you call them, ideals -- entitlement to blessings and benefits on the one hand and shrewd appraisal of the way life works, and you find, I think, they match poorly, if at all.

Take the driver's license flap -- the one that arose when Hillary Clinton couldn't or wouldn't come out and say what she thought about New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposal for the issuance of driver's licenses to illegal aliens. From the media Mrs. Clinton took a drubbing. She wouldn't say yes and she wouldn't say no; or anyway she wouldn't say either with any conviction, calling into question her credentials for taking charge of the world's still, despite reverses, No. 1 nation.

Put the lady's electoral prospects to the side. A matter worth more extensive chewing is the inability, wherever it exists, to shut off the driver's license argument on account of the sheer unacceptability of such a notion -- i.e., bestowing an entitlement of citizenship on non-citizens.

Let us see why this might be so. We could venture that in general you don't acquire privileges in consequence of being somewhere you aren't supposed to be. If anything, you acquire liabilities. Your job is to rectify the situation rather than reshape it to your own tastes.

Plenty of good arguments exist for rectifying and redrafting immigration policies that presently help no one -- those who come illegally, those in whose midst they take root. Is a grant of driver's licenses to violators of the law -- which is what illegal immigrants are -- an instrument of rectification? Or is it, far likelier, a white flag of abject surrender? Surrender to what? To the notion that racial politics disobliges America from making everyone in America play by the rules established for all.

Common sense tries to interject a couple of points: First, that when illegal immigrants start to receive the entitlements of citizenship, such as the legal right to drive a motor vehicle, it won't be long before they demand, or someone does it for them, new and enhanced benefits. Second, that when you start to break down the urgent distinctions between citizenship and non-citizenship, you debase and trivialize the former. Third, that it's just plain bad policy to break rules when you don't have to.

That's the voice, I say, of common sense: the apprehension of what works and what doesn't work; what one deserves and another doesn't. Common sense says that, even in situations where the maintenance of law is imperfect, you don't engender respect for law by rewarding transgressors.

Ah. But that's common sense -- a commodity that modern politics instructs us not to worry about when large voting blocs want something, or think they do.

Group entitlement -- this I want, so gimme -- rests upon an assumption of inherent rights. Thus, I may not be here legally, but look how hard I work, and what if -- here's the kicker -- some day I get to vote?

The privileges and immunities of citizenship formerly got conferred after some exertion on the part of the newly arrived. It's been a long time since exertion cut much ice with policymakers more intent on playing ethnic politics than with insisting on some degree of performance prior to the conferral of rights. Not even in the public schools is there much sense of a duty, an overriding necessity, to perform on tests in order to qualify for advancement.

As for a driver's license, and what the possession of one signifies in terms of personal responsibility -- shall we just acknowledge that responsibility isn't the point in New York; that vote-courting and -counting is the point?

The present value of denying a request for the automatic fruits of citizenship or the proofs of personal responsibility is so low you have to stoop to notice it. Of course the New York Democrats can always make it lower, with a little help from the voters.