Robert Meyer
Health insurance reform: socialism American-style
By Robert Meyer
September 17, 2009

One of the drawbacks of the current health care debate is that this issue is debated in terms of facts (which side is dishonest or misinformed about provisions of pending health care bills), rather than in reference to ideas (is universal health care a proper obligation of government).

In a 1961 address, Ronald Reagan stated: "Back in 1927 an American socialist, Norman Thomas, six times candidate for president on the Socialist Party ticket, said the American people would never vote for socialism. But he said under the name of liberalism the American people will adopt every fragment of the socialist program. One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It's very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project. Most people are a little reluctant to oppose anything that suggests medical care for people who possibly can't afford it."

Even though Reagan was speaking about early proposals for Medicare, he is largely correct in principle. Anyone who asserts that universal health care is a human right has become fully immersed in the dogma of entitlement. Reagan later gave a speech where he commented on the paradox of a survey he studied. The survey indicated that young people in greater numbers want government to stay out of their personal lives, while at the same time believe that things such as health care, mass transit, providing "living wages," must all be objectives of government regulation. So you have a Libertarian/Socialist dialectic.

This idea is so pervasive that it has resulted in a perversion of Christianity, where Jesus is now the consummate socialist, in spite of the fact that Christ never enlisted the state to enforce the provisions in the Sermon on the Mount. The newly added beatitude is "Blessed are the politicians who support universal healthcare, for they shall be called the compassionate." The reinvention of the Good Samaritan becomes one who cheerfully pays more taxes so that the government can create a program assisting those left for dead by the side of the road.

The results here are obvious. We have lost an understanding about the nature and purpose of charity and personal responsibility. We have made charity an entitlement, and we have given to the state powers it was never designed to wield, so that we can obfuscate our own personal responsibility. We can boldly proclaim that "I gave at the office," when someone in need encounters us with personal wants. With regard to responsibility, we are more inclined toward indifference if we think someone else will pay the freight, or is legally obligated to care for us through government levy.

A perfect example of this is the opening scene in the classic movie, "A Christmas Carol," staring Alistair Sims as Ebenezer Scrooge. In the scene, two men come to Scrooge's business office seeking donations to purchase food for the poor at Christmas time. Scrooge declines to give any money for the cause, and sarcastically asks the two solicitors if the debtor's prisons and sweatshops are still in operation. Scrooge then pointedly tells the two fund-raisers that he helps to support the named two organizations via his taxes, and anyone not well off must go there if they are in need of refuge. Scrooge is regarded as the consummate, greedy capitalist, yet his solution was to rely on the apparatus of socialism. Instead of taking personal responsibility for helping those in need, he chose to farm it off to a faceless social institution.

The other question besides the charity/entitlement dilemma, is the question of government power and obligation. Let's rely on our founders to guide us.

"If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one...." — James Madison

"I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit." — President Grover Cleveland vetoing a bill for charity relief (18 Congressional Record 1875 [1877]

James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, elaborated upon this limitation in a letter to James Robertson:

"With respect to the two words "general welfare," I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators..."

"Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated." — Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Albert Gallatin, 1817.

The sad fact is that the amateur constitutional scholars we find daily in our editorial pages, insist that terms like "general welfare" and 'common good," are clarion calls for the legitimacy of government run health care.

Too few are asking whether government should be involved in health care at all. Not only is there no constitutional mandate for it, but the federal government has habitually mismanaged programs it already operates.

Centuries ago, Socrates proffered that the unexamined life isn't worth living. I think we should have learned that the unexamined health care bill isn't worth passing.

© Robert Meyer


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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)


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