Awkward Applause

by Daniel Foster

The likes of Vanity Fair and Andrew Sullivan are aghast at the heartless bastardry that abounds in the Tea Party. Exhibit A comes from the CNN/TPX debate, during a standard-media-issue, Ron-Paul-baiting question about whether “society” should “let” a hypothetical 30-year-old who chose to forgo health insurance die if some mortal catastrophe befalls him. Though Paul himself hedged, a person in the audience shouted “Yeah!” in response, and brief applause followed. Both posts also make reference to a similar incident at the MSNBC debate last week, when the crowd cheered the record of executions under Governor Perry in Texas.

The Vanity Fair post basically drops its monocle in horror and gapes at how dreadful we conservatives are. Sullivan, for his part, attempts dress his up by admitting publicly subsidized health care presents a free-rider problem, and offers conservatives a bit of concern-trolling: To be intellectually consistent he says, we should back a repeal of EMTALA, the 1986 law that forces emergency rooms to treat people regardless of their ability to pay.

A few comments about all this:

1) I didn’t like the cheering for capital punishment either. I said as much on Twitter while I was watching the debate, and caught hell from a vocal group of followers. I understand their position — that the cheers were about the efficient carrying out of justice — but the way I see it the state’s power to kill its citizens is not something to hoot and holler about, even if you support it at the end of the day. I’m personally deeply conflicted about capital punishment, but I wish folks would understand that I can think, e.g., a convicted child killer most certainly deserves to die, while having concerns about giving a bureaucratic institution the power to kill him.

2) The health care question was different. What those people were cheering, either explicitly or implicitly, was the idea that we ought to be responsible for our own actions. That being held to account for our decisions, and not socializing the cost of making bad ones, is the only way to avoid moral hazard. EMTALA is held up as creating a moral hazard in its own right — and it does — but repealing it isn’t the only way to fix it. EMTALA, infamously, doesn’t contain a robust enforcement mechanism. Giving providers better legal recourse to to seek repayment would go a long way toward ensuring that those who have any capacity to pay, do. The true indigents would still be “free-riding”, but these are the people that even a modest social safety net is designed to catch anyway.

3) Liberals who think these Tea Partiers are heartless monsters ought to look at literally any study of charitable giving sorted for political belief. Start here.

4) Which brings me to the thing I always think whenever one of these “See, conservatives hate people” stories pops up: Perhaps the greatest advantage of supporting state remedies for all manner of misfortunes is that it means the only thing one needs to do to be a good person is vote for the statist. Head down to the polls every couple of years, check the Big Government box, and go sleep like a baby with an unburdened mind. Your work here is done. That really must be nice.