Entitlements: Let’s Get Our Constitution Straight

English: Painting, 1856, by Junius Brutus Stea...
English: Painting, 1856, by Junius Brutus Stearns, Washington at Constitutional Convention of 1787, signing of U.S. Constitution. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read with fascination an article in The New Civil Rights Movement decrying a law recently passed in Arizona – the Women’s Health and Safety Act – because it defines pregnancy as beginning not at conception, but with the end of the last period. I am not going to dive into the specifics of the law, because the argument over the specifics on abortion is taking place in other fora.

What caught my attention, however, was the digression in the piece where author David Badash attempts to discredit the law’s sponsor, Arizona State Representative Kimberly Yee, by belittling her advocacy of drug testing for welfare recipients.

In a strongly-worded op-ed in USAToday, Yee wrote:

States have an obligation to hold those on public assistance accountable for their actions. Receiving a public benefit is a privilege, not a right. The debate on drug testing welfare recipients is simply about the responsible use of tax dollars.

We can argue about whether this is the right answer to the problem, or whether there are some pieces missing to this approach. Rather than doing so, though, Badash takes another course:

It’s unclear where in the U.S. constitution [sic] it states that the states “have an obligation to hold those on public assistance accountable for their actions.”

Okay, he went there. I will, too.

First, Yee said nothing about a Constitutional obligation. She could have been referring to a moral obligation, a fiduciary responsibility, or a statutory obligation.

Second (and this is the key point), it is unclear where in the U.S. Constitution it says anything about any government organization being obliged to offer public assistance of any kind. Go check. I’ll wait.

Nobody is entitled to public assistance according to the founding documents of this nation. Indeed, Franklin D. Roosevelt had to fight brutal political battles during his first term in the heart of the Great Depression to make the case for any public assistance because it was an alien concept up to that time.

Where I agree with Yee is that the original idea – the Democratic idea – behind public assistance was to provide a temporary safety net to catch those who were by no fault of their own unable to provide themselves, not to create a state of permanent dependency on the government. That intent has been twisted. When we provide public assistance to habitual drug users, we not only enable a self-destructive habit that invites crime into society, we are turning public assistance into a hammock rather than a safety net.

There is no question that an individual caught in the downward spiral of dependency deserves compassion, help, and an opportunity to get clean and turn their lives around. Several, if necessary. But it is a hand up that these people need, not a hand out. We can argue what form that hand-up should take, but simply handing someone a check when all their mind can comprehend is the next drink, the next hit, or the next fix places our government in league with he pusher, not the user.

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

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