12 September 2009

Price is no object if the cause is just

In the current health care debate, much of the Republican opposition has centered around various objections to the cost. It is certainly legitimate for our elected representatives to concern themselves with a properly balanced budget - indeed, it is their clear fiduciary responsibility. However, there is a danger in focusing solely on such arguments, because debates about cost really really amount to debates about how to nationalize health care, rather than whether to do so, and the latter is the debate we should be having.

Just as a hypothetical, say the Democrats reached into their magic top hat and pulled out a magic money machine that could socialize medicine with a balanced budget. Would that make it the right thing to do? Obviously, there is no magic money machine, but there are magical rhetorical tricks which are not so far-fetched. The Democrats are using them now: Obama's pledge not sign a bill that will add "one dime" to the deficit, playing around with projections, and drawing moral equivalence to prior deficits. They do not have to prove it is paid for, they only have to lessen concern about the cost, and they win the argument.

Nearly a hundred years ago, G.K. Chesterton argued forcefully against the futility of debating "efficiency." Efficiency, he explained, is not a philosophy for action; efficiency, and success, can only be settled after the fact. The ground on which we must argue before the fact is not whether a policy will be efficient, but whether it is, "in the abstract, right or wrong."

Like it or not, this is exactly the ground on which Obama argues. You can talk until you are blue in the face (or green in the eyeshade) about how high the deficit will run, and his answer will always come down to the one he made to conclude his address to the joint session of Congress.

In that speech, he quoted Ted Kennedy's argument that nationalized health care "is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."

Indeed, Obama furthered the argument by implying that the question is already settled; that to ensure "security" and to reward hard work and responsibility, government intervention "has always been the history of our progress."

What national leader is answering these arguments with equally forceful moral arguments? Who will stand up and say that progress in America has never been measured by the soothing, guiding hand-outs from Washington, but by the courage and achievement of individuals. Who is arguing that Obamacare will not affirm, but will unalterably change "the character of our country," and for the worse?

The opposite of government-run health care is not the absence of health care, it is the presence of freedom. Free patients are free to decide for themselves what treatments are worth paying for. Free doctors are free to research, free to innovate, free to volunteer their time to help the poor. Free people make free decisions. Governments can only follow cold, bureaucratic rules, and ensure compliance by force; it is the nature of government. It is why we must not allow our poor and our sick; indeed, our own bodies, to become matters of public policy.

We must remain human beings, not abstract categories of spending; individuals, not objects; citizens, not subjects. That's why Obamacare must be stopped.

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