Gretna, Nebraska — A revealing scene in the Depression-era film “Cinderella Man” presents a very different worldview from the entitlement mentality of today. Heavyweight fighter Jim Braddock is so embarrassed about having to take help from the government in order to feed his family that when he subsequently earns the money, his first inclination is go the agency dispensing “relief” and pay back every cent he received. Can you imagine that happening today?
Much has been written about Barack Obama’s entitlement state. Of course, it started long before he became president. In fact, the seeds were planted with those first “relief” payments, long before most of us were born. During the 1930s, when the American people were truly living in dire conditions, a father and son were happy to have work that paid them a dollar a day between the two of them. I know, because I’ve seen the pay stubs reflecting the earnings of my father and grandfather, who gratefully worked together on the same job during the summers when my dad was in high school during the Depression.
It instilled in him a work ethic that carried over into his adult life, and the only “entitlements” he ever received were the Social Security and Medicare benefits he had paid into most of his life. After serving in World War II, he became a newspaperman, and though he served on the staff of several Midwestern papers, I never knew him not to work.
Unfortunately, a significant percentage of today’s generation cannot attest to witnessing that sort of example. A news item presented itself last week and I realized that the entitlement mentality has extended far beyond welfare recipients. It now includes many public servants as well. Consider how appreciative you would be of this job and benefits: $90,184 annual salary, with a raise in six months and potential pay boosts for cost-of-living adjustments and performance bonuses. Unrestricted use of a new Chrysler, including gas. Free health insurance. Extra pay for a day over 8 hours.
Until last week, those were the salary and benefits for Colleen Lawry, the city administrator for the little town of Gretna, Nebraska, population just a hair over 5,000. Yes, in answer to your unspoken question, you can live quite well anywhere in Nebraska on that kind of compensation package, and it would be disgusting enough for taxpayers if the story ended there. But it doesn’t.
It seems that the more Colleen Lawry was given, the more she felt entitled to. A recent review of city finances by Nebraska’s state auditor reveals that she has been using city credit cards for expensive personal trips, lunches and other unauthorized purposes. But the thing that has people in this town truly up in arms is Lawry’s personal use of funds for senior citizens. A fund in the amount of $1,000 designated for the lunches of needy seniors was being used by this parasite for booze at a local liquor store and lingerie at Victoria’s Secret.
This is not meant to tar and feather every public servant. There are many who do not abuse their offices. But there are many others who do, and that abuse is costing taxpayers untold millions — yea, billions — every year. Government is out of control at virtually every level, and those who serve in it should be held to at least as high a standard as those in business.
Colleen Lawry has been fired from this cushy job and will stand trial for felony theft of city funds. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison. But the question hangs in the air like rotting garbage: what is it that causes a person to so completely lose track of the difference between right and wrong? Perhaps she never knew the difference. Perhaps she is just selfish. Perhaps, like so many Americans today — especially if they work in government — she simply thinks she is entitled.
© 2012 by Doug Patton
Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself much more often than not. Now working as a freelance writer, his weekly columns of sage political analysis are published the world over by legions of discerning bloggers, courageous webmasters and open-minded newspaper editors. Astute supporters and inane detractors alike are encouraged to e-mail him with their pithy comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.