December 11, 2013 by Anders Ingemarson
Over at Salon, Robert Reich laments that “handwringing over healthcare.gov’s disastrous rollout obscures the greater truth that ACA is a moral imperative”. He continues “Even a clunky compromise like the ACA between a national system of health insurance and a for-profit insurance market depends, fundamentally, on a social compact in which those who are healthier and richer are willing to help those who are sicker and poorer. Such a social compact defines a society. […] It’s only just that those with higher incomes bear some responsibility for maintaining the health of Americans who are less fortunate. This is a profoundly moral argument about who we are and what we owe each other as Americans.”
Kudos to Mr. Reich for bringing the moral argument front and center, because healthcare policy is primarily a moral, not a political, issue. Being a good Progressive, he echoes the Leftist moral position of the past 100+ years that virtue consists of sacrificing the haves to the have-nots and that government force is the means of execution. No, he doesn’t use those exact words, but that’s what it means to define a society as a social compact in which those who are healthier and richer are willing to help those who are sicker and poorer.
Unfortunately Robert Reich and the Left are not alone in praising the virtue of sacrifice—it is also the dominant moral imperative on the Right.
Slightly generalized, the Left seeks secular moral guidance in the teachings of intellectuals and activists such as Karl Marx (socialism and communism: sacrificing one class of people to another), John Rawls (egalitarianism and social justice: sacrificing the “fortunate” to the “unfortunate”), Rachel Carson (environmentalism: sacrificing humanity to nature), and the likes. There is no shortage of inspiration.
The Right for the most part seeks divine moral guidance, primarily in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (sacrificing his life so our sins may be forgiven).
But there are important differences. The Left is more consistent than the Right. It practices what it preaches. There is little doubt among Leftists that government is the political tool for implementing their moral vision, the rightful agent of force for their sacrificial redistributive programs.
The Right is inconsistent because it is conflicted. On the one hand, the virtue of sacrifice is its moral guiding star. On the other, it believes that government force is not necessarily a good political solution. As a result, many on the Right want to make sacrifice a private matter. Private charity, they say, is a better way of carrying out their sacrificial moral vision than heavy handed government involvement. But if sacrifice is truly the moral ideal, the Left counters, why should we not use government to enforce it? The Right has no answer.
In politics, being more consistent than your opponent in practicing what you preach gives you the advantage even if your ideas are wrong. And make no mistake, Robert Reich and the Left’s ideas are dead wrong, outdated, uncool, Old World. He and his fellow Leftist crusaders are moral/political dinosaurs.
But as long as they practice what they preach more consistently than the Right, they will continue to win the political battle. They may face occasional setbacks, they may be voted out of office for a period, but over time their consistency pays dividends. The past 100 years of American politics is proof of their success—from Woodrow Wilson’s massive WWI government expansion to FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s “Great Society” and most recently ObamaCare. These and countless other programs are still with us and new are being added with each congressional session.
What’s worse, the Right has often tagged along, priding itself of being as good as the Left at promoting sacrifice. On the rare occasions it hasn’t, opposition has mostly amounted to criticism of implementation details, not of the programs themselves.
Criticizing implementation details is morally safe territory for the Right—few voters object to exposing an inefficiently or wastefully run program. Attacking the program itself, however, is risky, as it may lay bare the dreaded moral/political conflict: ”How can you be so heartless as to refuse the poor proper healthcare!”
ObamaCare is the perfect example. The criticism from the Right is heavily focused on pragmatic non-essentials—the website doesn’t work, you cannot keep your plan, and so on.
But such a vision is impossible without acknowledging the true healthcare moral imperative: a morality that champions rational selfishness and renounces sacrifice. Such a morality champions the rights of each of us to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—as patients, doctors, health insurance providers, medical device and pharmaceutical company shareholders and employees. And it renounces all forced governmental redistributive programs and regulations because they violate our rights—Medicare, Medicaid, ObamaCare, health insurance regulations, FDA regulations, non-objective medical tort practices.
Until the Right is willing to resolve its moral/political conflict and give up its allegiance to the morality of sacrifice it will continue to play second fiddle in American politics. Until the Right is willing to embrace the true healthcare moral imperative, the virtue of rational selfishness, Robert Reich and the Left will continue us down the sacrificial path to healthcare hell.