Critical Condition

What the Health-Care Debate Is Really All About

In the New York Times, David Brooks writes as if it’s more or less equally problematic to reject or enact Obamacare, and the decision is largely a matter of personal taste. He writes:

The bottom line is that we face a brutal choice.

Reform would make us a more decent society, but also a less vibrant one. It would ease the anxiety of millions at the cost of future growth. It would heal a wound in the social fabric while piling another expensive and untouchable promise on top of the many such promises we’ve already made. America would be a less youthful, ragged and unforgiving nation, and a more middle-aged, civilized and sedate one.

We all have to decide what we want at this moment in history, vitality or security. We can debate this or that provision, but where we come down will depend on that moral preference. Don’t get stupefied by technical details. This debate is about values.

There are elements of truth in Brooks’s words, and he’s right that this debate is about values. But it’s not about decency versus vibrancy, about easing anxiety versus promoting growth. 

Rather, it’s about liberty versus equality, personal control versus governmental control, dispersed power versus centralized power, freedom versus statism, American Founding principles of limited government and natural rights versus Progressive principles of activist government and conventional (man-made) “rights.”

There is nothing particularly noble, compassionate, or decent about helping to hold a gun to your neighbor’s head and saying that he or she must now pay more money to the state to cover the costs of someone else’s health care. Compassion and decency are much more in evidence in offering your own limited time or hard-earned money to help the needy, in imploring (not forcing) others to do so, in forming civil associations to help, even in leading local government action (from which people can far more easily flee if it becomes oppressive). 

This debate is about vibrancy; that is true. But it’s also about decency, and they’re on the same side of the fence. For there is nothing more decent than fighting for liberty — against efforts to centralize and consolidate power in a manner that Tocqueville said “hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.”