Idea of entitlement becoming a problem in America

Monday, March 10, 2008 | 9:32 a.m. CDT; updated 8:07 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I think it’s time to make clear to people running for president that years of serving in political office or graduation from an Ivy League law school does not entitle one to hold that office. Members of Congress deserve and are paid salaries and retirement benefits, I believe, and law school graduates receive a diploma for their efforts.

As I’ve watched the candidates come and go, this is the first time I’ve been aware that so many of them seem to feel that they have earned the office based on their personal backgrounds. To be sure, some of them have served the country honorably in a variety of ways; however, we don’t elect presidents through a system of promotion.

One of the things many Americans were proud at one time to say was that any child could grow up and become president. While it’s probably true that any person who has many millions or can acquire them can be elected president today, looking back at the previous jobs our presidents of the past have held, it could be said that money is the only requirement added to the list in modern times. Previous presidents have come from many walks of life. We have had military leaders, an actor, a newspaper publisher, and I read an account the other day that said former President Gerald Ford was once a fashion model.

Unfortunately, this idea of entitlement has become a part of the general thought process of some Americans. It was not long ago that one mother got in serious trouble because she thought her daughter was entitled to be a cheerleader. Some parents think their sons and daughters are entitled to be put on sports teams because their fathers were football or basketball stars. Others feel that their children are entitled to be placed on the honor roll because one of the parents is on the school board. I have listened to people who believe they were entitled to be deemed with high regard in foreign countries simply because they were Americans.

There are many families across the country who wish to emulate the Kennedys by attempting to build political dynasties. They want their family names to make it into the history books. In every section of the country, these little political power bases flourish. Of course, the same holds true for other professions, such as law and medicine, where members tend to follow the family tradition. This is all well and good. It’s when people start to believe that name recognition entitles them to certain privileges that it often becomes a problem.

I’ll always remember a lesson a friend of mine learned from her father when she was a young adult. As it happened, her father owned the only bank in a small town nearby and was considered the town’s leading citizen, being president of most civic and social clubs and organizations. My friend, arriving home from college on a weekend and bringing friends, came speeding into town at about 70 mph. She was pulled over by a young policeman who, when looking at the name on her driver’s license, advised her to slow down and gave her a pass. When my friend arrived home and laughingly discussed the incident with her friends, her father overheard the account. He came into the room, escorted his daughter out the front door, drove her to the police station, alerted the police chief to the matter and demanded that the young cop be called in to issue his daughter a speeding ticket. Although the incident took place nearly thirty years ago, whenever I run into my friend, we drag out that story and she recounts the role her father’s action played in shaping her character.

I am constantly amazed by parents who can so quickly go into a tirade because their children have failed to clean up their rooms then so willingly overlook their children’s misbehavior in dealing with adults and other children. When these children are accused of cheating on tests or bullying other children, their parents are quick to defend them by saying, “After all, they are only kids.”

It’s bad enough for adults to believe that they are entitled to special privileges because of their family connections, but to pass this on to children is to deny them the right to prove the best of themselves as they seek to earn the privileges they desire. How will a child ever determine his or her own abilities if an open door is always available whenever he or she tries to venture out on their own? How will the child build his or her own strengths, develop his or her own talents or sharpen his or her own skills? Or worse still, how will he or she stand once the crutch is removed?

One of the few tangible benefits of growing up in a working-class minority family is the knowledge that the only thing you are entitled to is what you can earn. That way, one learns early that she is only special to those who love her.

My, what a concept.

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