Believe it or not, this is not meant to be an indictment of our current president. Some of his recent comments simply triggered the thought stream that led to this essay.
This is however an indictment of the office and the office holders for the last 70 or so years. Others can argue about who caused what and when. The point here is that the role of President of the United States has changed over the years, and remarks made by the current incumbent in recent days highlight one change.
There was a time in this country when the national government loathed to interfere with the everyday lives of its citizens. Certainly, there were laws, policies and regulations. Society, even the society within the United States, needs some structure. Still, the idea of the government feeding, clothing and tucking you in at night really took hold in the 20th Century.
Today a large part of the United States government is dedicated to taking care of a larger and larger minority of its citizens. It does this in ways our forefathers and previous generations never imagined.
The advocates and supporters of this system come from both sides of the political spectrum. Some see it as a way to political power, a way to legally bribe voters. Others see it as form of national compassion and obligation, or compassionate conservatism as one recent president stated it. Others may see it as a necessary burden. Either way, the result is a downward spiral for some large segments of society.
Please understand. Giving someone a hand when they are down is a good thing. Many faiths, belief systems and ethical codes advocate helping those who have fallen on hard times. However, most of those codes did not envision the government being the source of that help, and none of them advocate putting someone on the dole for life.
People advocating systems that result in lifetime dependence on the dole are enablers. In case enabler is a new word for you, it is defined as follows:
one that enables another to achieve an end; especially: one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior (as substance abuse) by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior (Merriam-Webster.com)
Regardless of the reason someone needs help, simply giving them food, money, housing or other assistance can become a form of enabling. Some might find it hard to believe that a person would choose to live on government subsidies when a little initiative and work might lead to a better lifestyle. Unfortunately, free money is addicting. Anyone who has worked with people on welfare, food stamps or other forms of government assistance know that is the case, if they are honest with themselves. unfortunately, many, not all, of those who work in government agencies providing assistance are enablers as well.
Again, please know, this is not an indictment of all who are on government programs. There are certainly many, many people who need assistance, if not complete support to survive. The problem is that there are many who could have a better life if they were challenged or encouraged to better themselves. The current system does not give them the opportunity.
It is easy to doubt the previous statement. It is easy to say, “These people do not choose to be on welfare, and they have no way out.” The truth is people do work their way out of those situations every day. There are stories regularly in local papers or on the evening news about the homeless person who cleaned him or herself up and is on the road to a brighter future. There are reports of single moms working their way out of subsidized housing and poverty.
Enablers will quickly say you cannot use these successes as examples. They are exceptions, and others in similar situations cannot be expected to help themselves. In some cases, even those who managed to escape the welfare prison or at least reduce their dependence on it consider themselves exceptions. They firmly believe that they are different and will argue with anyone attempting to use them as an example of a success story.
The ones who escape the welfare dungeon may be different in some ways. Still, the odds are there are a lot of other “exceptions” who could better themselves with a little encouragement or challenge. That is why government welfare and subsidy programs are a form of enabling. By design, government programs are not challenging or encouraging.
Government programs of this nature cannot be challenging or encouraging. Programs of that are might lead to judgements and possible discrimination. Government programs must be based on the lowest and least controversial common denominator or denominators.
A person with an income below a certain level is entitled to a certain amount of a subsidy, regardless of why his or her income is below that level. Individuals with certain challenges are entitled to a subsidy, without regard or consideration of other factors such as other sources of assistance. Even in programs such as unemployment compensation, there is little real effort to determine if a recipient has made a good faith effort to find a job or improve his or her situation.
It is hard to find the so-called exceptions who might work their way off of a public subsidy if no one is looking for them. That is another problem with welfare systems or other programs that give people money or assistance because of their circumstances. Even the most dedicated civil servant has little time to offer help to the individual. He or she must be more interested in the class of people he or she serves, and paying special attention to individuals within that group might appear to be favoritism, discrimination or a violation of some bureaucratic rule, regulation or policy.
The Enabler in Chief syndrome is a problem. As long as the person occupying the White House sees enabling as one of his or her major responsibilities, for whatever reason, the welfare rolls will continue to grow. The Enabler in Chief is not only enabling millions of people who could do better. He, or she, is also enabling Congress to pass bills that expand programs rewarding people for a lack of motivation and success instead of programs designed to help those who truly cannot help themselves.
President Kennedy once stood before the nation and said, “…ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Today, a president is more likely to say. You need something, just ask, and don’t worry about the cost!