“What in the world was McDonnell thinking?” asked my friend in a rant about politicians. Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell is the subject of a federal investigation and public scandal trying to ascertain the legality of monies he and his family received from a political donor as gifts and loans.
So what was he thinking? I suspect he was thinking the same thing every child making a Christmas list is thinking, “I deserve this. I’m entitled.”
Along with an update on the McDonnell story, the December 12 Washington Post carried another money scandal update: “Another EPA official is under investigation.” John C. Beale who was a senior executive in the Environmental Protections Agency’s Air and Radiation Office has already pled guilty to bilking the government out of $900,000 in excess pay and bonuses he managed to direct his way. He also found that claiming he was a CIA agent was useful and so he did that too.
What was he thinking? I don’t know, but “I deserve this. I’m entitled,” is probably a good place to start the guessing. Entitlement is, after all, an All-American national pastime. And while I’m not talking about “entitlement programs,” what I have to say applies to them as well. I’m talking about that voice in each of our heads that keeps repeating, “I deserve. I deserve. I’m entitled.”
In the holiday classic (Okay, “classic” may be pushing it) “Christmas Vacation,” Clark Griswold is in the local megastore with penniless Cousin Eddie. Eddie can’t afford Christmas gifts for his wife and kids so Clark volunteers to buy presents for Eddie to give.
“This is a surprise, Clark. It’s just a real nice surprise,” says Eddie, giving him an appreciative hug. Then, reaching into his pocket, he pulls out some papers, hands them to Clark, and says, “Here’s a little list, alphabetical starting with Katherine.”
Later in the movie, Clark proves that he’s no different. Before Christmas he signed a contract for a swimming pool and needs his Christmas bonus to pay for it. But instead of big bucks, his company decided that this year’s bonus is enrollment in the Jelly Of The Month Club and Clark goes ballistic (Caution: Bad language). Somehow he assumed his Christmas bonus—money above and beyond his agreed-upon salary—was owed to him.
Pushing it beyond Christmas, nineteenth century German poet Heinrich Heine’s last words are alleged to have been, “Of course God will forgive me. That’s his job.”
Advertisers have told us for years that we deserve a break today and that though some things are expensive, we’re worth it. And have you noticed how quickly luxuries become necessities become entitlements?
Two large families from deep in the Evangelical, home-schooling, keep-away-from-the-world subculture were devastated when the mom from one family ran off with the dad from the other. The runaway mom explained it all to my friend this way: “Don’t I deserve to be happy?” (I’m not making this up though I wish I was.) She apparently believed that she was entitled to this happiness even if the price was misery for their deserted spouses and children.
Josiah Bunting III’s 1998 book An Education for Our Time is, in part, a critique not only of American higher education, but of the entitlement mentality in American culture and politics. He imagines a radically new kind of college, writing, “The College’s mission is the preparation of virtuous and disinterested citizens and leaders for the Republic.”
What does he mean? “Virtuous: doing what is right, in accordance with the searching and pitiless dictates of conscience. Disinterested: motivated only by the notion of doing for our enterprise what it needs, not what I need.”
Bunting, a Major General and former superintendent of Virginia Military Institute, isn’t afraid or ashamed of using words such as virtue, commitment, and duty as he sketches out the details of his college. “Every aspect of the way our students are to live at the College,” he writes, “must be anchored in, must pivot about, a willing commitment o do their duty to the community, to their colleagues and friends before they attend to their own needs or wishes.”
That sounds downright Christ-like to me. It also sounds like a blueprint for marital success, rearing children, personal growth, and leading churches, organizations, and governments.
So enough entitlements. For Christmas I want virtue, duty, responsibility, commitment, and sacrifice. Don’t you?
Now that hard part: it doesn’t begin with our politicians; it begins with you and me.
Publication date: December 13, 2013