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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How to Lose the Healthcare Debate - and Liberty

Daren Jonescu

Imagine what you would think if someone burst into the room and shouted, "My house is on fire—actually, the fire started last night, but I had an important meeting this morning, and I had to attend my son's little league game this afternoon, so I haven't had a chance to call the fire department yet; but it's really a bad fire!"

Throughout 2010 and 2011, there was a broad consensus among conservatives of all stripes that the strongest and most important policy issue upon which to build the electoral case against President Obama was healthcare. The issue was never far from the surface, and throughout the early months of the Republican primary process, various candidates kept Obamacare on the front burner, correctly designating its repeal as the single most crucial task of the next administration. In latter days, however, the Republican Establishment, having selected as its preferred nominee a candidate who is singularly weak and compromised on this matter, has endeavored to place healthcare squarely on the back burner, and to keep it there. In so doing, they are all but ensuring that government-controlled healthcare will never be repealed.

In its early stages, the Obamacare debate was understood by constitutional conservatives to be a fight for the preservation of natural rights. The "positive right" to healthcare underlying this 2,700 page bill is a direct and fundamental challenge to the Declaration's most basic decree, namely that all men are endowed with the right to life. As I have explained previously, government-controlled healthcare strikes at the core meaning of the right to life, which lies in the nexus between the inviolable dignity of man and the natural animal impulse to self-preservation. In short, the right to life is at the heart of the distinction between man and the lower animals; by denying men the liberty to pursue their self-preservation through their own voluntary means, government-controlled healthcare denies the unique value of human life, in principle reducing man to equal moral status with other animals.

The Establishment, however, has chosen Mitt Romney—the one candidate remaining in this race for whom government control of healthcare is not even nominally a constitutional question, but merely a question of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Romney has no argument against the principle of government-controlled healthcare. His beef with Obamacare is entirely superficial, as he made perfectly clear at the February 22nd debate, where he identified his three reasons for repeal as its excessive cost, its required tax hikes, and its diversion of Medicare funds. As is implied by these reasons, and demonstrated by Romneycare, he would have no problem with this foot-in-the-door for government control, if only it could be done in a more "fiscally sound" fashion.

Thus, the Republican Party elite, to protect their man, have had to remove Obamacare from the front lines of battle. This means, strategically, that they have chosen to sacrifice one of those rare issues on which there is a broad national consensus against Obama, one that runs across party lines, and that would be highly effective with independent voters. Worse yet, it means, morally, that they have forsaken the single most urgent constitutional issue of this uniquely important election year: the Left's wide-ranging and profound assault on the most fundamental natural rights, through Obamacare's introduction of the principles of socialized medicine, which rejects outright the notion of individual self-ownership.

The problem with this strategic downplaying of healthcare is that the crux of this fight, from the outset, was never the cost-effectiveness or funding methods of Obamacare, but rather the constitutional crisis entailed in this violation of liberty. The individual mandate, initially, and "death panels," ultimately, are what this debate is, and must be, about. Do you own your own body? Does a government bureaucrat have any constitutional authority to deny you or your loved ones available medical treatments or procedures that you wish to pursue? Does the government have the authority to force religious institutions to provide (non-essential) medical services which violate the tenets of their faith? The answers to these questions are truths so self-evident that most Americans have continued to reject Obamacare, in spite of relentless campaigning in its defense by the Left and its media mouthpieces.

There is, however, a way to lose this seemingly easy, and urgent, issue, and the Republican Establishment is traveling this disastrous path in earnest. The way to victory is never to allow people to become comfortable with Obamacare, or accustomed to its presence as a part of daily reality. If it is as vital as constitutionalists believe, then there is no excuse for putting it aside, or throwing it casually into the general stew marked "Bad Policy." By downplaying its significance, or placing it off to one side for a few months in order to deal with "more pressing matters," one thoroughly destroys the sense of urgency that ought to surround this particular issue.

And then, after a few months, having reduced this assault on liberty to just another debate topic, it will be impossible to re-ignite the general public passion and outrage that ought to attend the Obamacare discussion. Any talk of rights-violation or constitutionality will be dismissed by the broader voting public as just the usual election year hyperbole. After all, they will understandably think, if the matter were really so important, surely the Republicans would have been more focused on it throughout the year.

Imagine what you would think if someone burst into the room and shouted, "My house is on fire—actually, the fire started last night, but I had an important meeting this morning, and I had to attend my son's little league game this afternoon, so I haven't had a chance to call the fire department yet; but it's really a bad fire!" Having treated it as one of a laundry list of policy "concerns," Republicans will never again be able to raise Obamacare as the crisis that it truly is.

Healthcare will fade into that blurry world of political nuance and degree, the world of tax rates, debt-ceilings, and minimum wage hikes. An issue that might have turned the election for the Republicans—and, more importantly, the one issue that might have turned the moral argument for the constitutional republic—will have been sacrificed, solely for the sake of protecting Mitt Romney.

I conclude with a true story that will serve as a parable about America twenty years from now.

In 1933, a young Canadian theology student named Tommy Douglas completed his M.A. thesis, entitled "The Problems of the Subnormal Family." In it, he argued for a eugenics program which would involve forcibly removing morally or intellectually subnormal individuals to state-run camps, and sterilizing those found to be "mentally defective." Barely a decade later, Douglas was elected premier of the sparsely populated farming province of Saskatchewan. In 1962, after many years of his leadership and advocacy, Saskatchewan finally adopted North America's first fully socialized medical system. This system quickly became the model for Canada's national healthcare system.

Douglas was an avowed socialist, who openly opposed economic freedom in his private and public life. He expressed frustration with the theoretical Marxists he associated with at the University of Chicago in the 1930s, as he found them unwilling to fight for socialism in practice. He served as the leader of Canada's socialist party at the national level for more than ten years, during which time the party never won an election, or even finished second. In fact, during those years, Douglas twice failed even to win his own parliamentary seat.

And yet, in 2004, eighteen years after his death, Canada's national public broadcaster conducted an online survey to select history's "Greatest Canadian." The winner? Not a prime minister, a famous scientist, or even a great athlete. No, the greatest Canadian of all time, by popular vote, was the "father of Medicare," Tommy Douglas.

That's what happens when government-controlled healthcare becomes entrenched in a national psyche. It becomes the nation's essence. Its authoritarian advocates become the nation's heroes. Freedom, and all those who struggled in its defense against Leftist authoritarianism, are simply forgotten, as if they had never existed.

This is the future that awaits America if the GOP stays on its current course. Unemployment and a weak economy are important matters, to be sure; but they are merely symptoms of an underlying disease. That disease is the loss of freedom. Alleviating the symptoms of a disease is all well and good, but without curing the underlying ailment, the symptoms will return in force. The healthcare debate strikes at the causes of the illness itself. Freedom is the healthy state that must be restored; all else will follow.

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