Uncle Sam, the enabler

Published 5:56 pm Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The description of an enabler is “one who enables, that is helps or allows another to achieve an end.”

It is used, most often, in a way that describes someone who enables an addict to continue in a destructive manner. An enabler might be a family member or friend who refuses to confront their loved one with the truth that their behavior is irresponsible and ruinous.

I suppose that someone’s personal behavior might be considered a matter of free will and no one else’s business. At the same time, hardly anyone lives in a vacuum. If a person’s behavior harmed only that person, then confrontation regarding that behavior might be considered meddling. But we all know of the broad ramifications of negative behavior.

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Uncle Sam is not a real person per se. Uncle Sam is symbolic of our federal government and all the vastness thereof. There are three branches and more bureaucracies than you can shake a stick at. Millions of people, elected, appointed or employed make up the behemoth we call Uncle Sam. And even though our uncle is not a person, he might be an enabler.

It was during The War of 1812 that a certain New York businessman by the name of Samuel Wilson procured a contract to supply the U.S. Army with beef. Sam Wilson packed the beef in barrels and stamped U.S. on the outside of the barrel.

It is unclear as to just what the initials stood for, but most likely, it represented for whom the barrels were intended. However, when someone asked what the initials meant, a worker for Sam Wilson replied, “Uncle Sam Wilson.” The barrels of beef intended for the U.S. Army were from Uncle Sam.

The name stuck and Uncle Sam became the recognized and symbolic name for, not Uncle Sam Wilson, but the federal government of the United States of America. The caricature of Uncle Sam with which we are most familiar is that of a stern, elderly gentleman with a white hair and a goatee. He is usually dressed in some kind of red, white and blue suit.

During the first half of the 20th century, Uncle Sam was painted and posted all over the country with his finger pointing at us with the words, “I Want You.” Those posters, of course, were urging young American men and boys to join the Army and defend the freedoms of our great country. Uncle Sam had a positive image then.

That might not be the case today. Uncle Sam is no longer a thin and benevolent personality. He is certainly not stern. He is a lot more bloated these days and doesn’t seem to have much of an idea as to how to get things done. Uncle Sam is no longer an answer to problems, but a problem in and of himself. That’s my opinion, of course.

I think that less of Uncle Sam is better than more of him. That might be the definition of a conservative, but I would rather not think so much of labels. There are others who think that Uncle Sam should be the answer to every question or need. That’s where Uncle Sam becomes the enabler.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are many people who are in need of help. The times in which we live are difficult and jobs are hard to find. Everybody has bills to pay and, sometimes, a benevolent Uncle is a good thing. Most of us are familiar with the phrases “Hand-outs” and “Hand-ups.” There is a big difference between giving hand-outs and giving a helping hand-up.

In Tuesday’s USA Today, the headline of Page One was “Reliance on Uncle Sam Hits a Record.” The article by Dennis Cauchon was built around the statistic that dependence on government assistance last year hit an all-time high. Almost 20 percent of the total income of Americans in 2010 came from Uncle Sam.

That percentage might not ring a bell for most of us except when it is compared to what was a fairly constant percentage before 2000. From 1980 to 2000, Uncle Sam’s contributions to the financial income of Americans stayed about the same at 12.5 percent. Since 2000, the percentage has grown very quickly and, in particular, the last few years have really shown a drastic increase.

What does this say? It says that we are becoming more and more dependent upon our federal government for the making of our livings. That’s not a good trend, but to be fair, we could say that these past few years have been unlike any we have ever seen.

It could also be said that Uncle Sam is an enabler of that trend. Remember, an enabler is one who helps another achieve an end. The word can be positive or negative. An enabler who exhibits responsibility and helps another become responsible is a good thing. With a government that would be one that offered a helping hand to those who were willing to work and learn to, eventually, stand on their own.

The opposite would be one who just simply offered hand-outs with no expectations of the receivers learning any kind of responsibility or changing any kind of behavior. What is the end result of that kind of action? Do we become better or worse?

The goal of our government should be to help those who cannot help themselves or those who have temporarily come upon tough times. That should be the expected end as we use our means. When we use our resources to allow ruinous, irresponsible and reckless behavior, we become an enabler in the negative sense. Uncle Sam ought to look in the mirror and ask himself, “Am I helping or am I hurting?”