Politics & Policy

The Folly of Obamacare

It's a bait and switch.

Let us for a moment adopt the proposition that health care is in fact a “right,” as pretty much every liberal politician has told us for at least a generation.

Now let us consider how President Obama’s proposed health-care bill would work. Under his plan, an official body — staffed with government doctors, actuaries, economists, and other experts — will determine which health-care treatments, procedures, and remedies are cost-effective and which are not. Then it will decide which ones will get paid for and which won’t. Would a 70-year-old woman be able to get a hip replacement, or would that not be considered a wise allocation of resources? Would a 50-year-old man not be permitted an expensive test his doctor wants if the rules say the cheaper, less-thorough one is sufficient? The Democrats call this “cost-controls.” But for the patient and the doctor, it’s plain old rationing.

Now, imagine if the government had a body of experts charged with figuring out what your free-speech rights are, or your right to assemble, or worship. Mr. Jones, you can say X and Y, but not Z. Ms. Smith, you can freely assemble with Aleutians, Freemasons, and carpenters, but you may not meet in public with anyone from Cleveland or of Albanian descent. Mrs. Wilson, you may pray to Vishnu and Crom, but never to Allah or Buddha, and when you do pray, you cannot do so for longer than 20 minutes at a time, unless it is one of several designated holidays. Please see Extended Prayer Form 10–22B.

Of course, all of this would be ludicrous beyond words.

#ad#Which is the whole point. Health care cannot be a right, because rights cannot come from government. At best, they can be protected by government. The founders understood this, which is why our Bill of Rights is really a list of restrictions on the government in Washington. “Congress shall make no law . . . ” is how the First Amendment begins.

Now, this isn’t to say the government can’t or shouldn’t provide health care to everyone. You have no right to a highway or sewer system, but there’s nothing wrong with government providing such things. Indeed, the Constitution says that government should promote the “general welfare.” And people of good will can argue whether or how much government-provided or -subsidized health care fits under that mandate.

Historically, the American people are keen on any proposal that expands freedom and are skeptical about anything that constricts it. Generally, this means that advocates for every new program or policy — from welfare to gay marriage — try their darnedest to frame their case in terms of extending choice and freedom.

The interesting thing is that it seems Americans have discovered that talk of health care as a “right” doesn’t mean expanding their own freedom. It means, at best, expanding the options of others at the expense of the middle class and, naturally, “the rich.”

Polling by the centrist think tank Third Way finds that the pivotal question for Americans is, “What’s in it for me?” And it seems President Obama hasn’t answered that to their satisfaction. Sixty percent of Americans think Obama’s health care plan will help someone other than them.

Many liberals frequently confuse widespread support for “reform” with support for massive new government involvement in health care. But when concrete proposals come down the pike, the issue changes from hypothetical support for fixing the problem to, again, “What’s in it for me?”

That’s why in his press conference Wednesday night, President Obama used very conservative, even free-market language to sell a program that is actually still premised on the left-wing nostrum that health care is a “right.” His plan will create “a marketplace that promotes choice and competition.” He’s in this to “control costs” and bring down the deficit.

Now, Obama has come nowhere near meeting the burden of proof that the still inchoate and murky proposals in a still half-baked health-care bill will do anything of the sort. Indeed, so far the more persuasive argument — backed up by the Congressional Budget Office and others — is that Obamacare will cost a lot of money. And the only way it can actually “save” money is by rationing care. But Obama understands that he cannot sell his health-care reform in the language of the Left.

So, it’s a bait and switch. If anything, the overriding idea behind Obama’s approach seems to be to rush his “public plan” into law and expand its generosity over time. This is the tribute a center-left president must pay to a center-right country.

He’s in such a hurry because he senses Americans understand a bait and switch when they see one. On Monday he even proclaimed, “The time for talking is through.”

In fact, it almost sounds like he actually does want to ration free speech, too.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.

© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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