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Health Care Debate Reveals Distrust for Government, Desire for Individual Freedom, and More.

July 27, 2009

It ought to strike conservatives as no coincidence that Obama’s signature legislative effort reveals significant facts about a center-right country.

It is a source of endless frustration for conservatives–meaning those that opposed Obama during the ’08 campaign–that a center-right country would elect a radical leftist and yet and still, insist against individual leftist policies.

Hence, it is frustrating, but comforting nonetheless, to see many of the same people who enthusiastically voted for President Obama wail and lament his policy efforts, especially his signature piece of legislation: health care reform.

It ought to be something that makes liberals take note as well.  You can dupe American voters during a campaign by adopting the lofty rhetoric of genuine conservatives like Reagan and Goldwater, but in the end, that’s all you’ve done; you’ve duped them into voting for you without actually altering their core political philosophy.  Rasmussen, among others, continuously gauges public opinion on President Obama’s policy initiatives, and the outlook for the president is bleak: they don’t think that Congress should determine what light bulbs and appliances they purchase using environmental pretexts; a plurality of them think that stimulus has hurt, rather than helped, the economy; they trust their own economic judgment more than President Obama’s; a plurality believe that finding new sources of energy is more important than mandating greater fuel efficiency; global warming is so important to them that they are willing to spend precisely nothing to combat it; and–worst of all for the President–they are set against Obama’s signature initiative: health care reform.

President Obama is out in the open and clearly discernible for what he is, as Ben Stein–among many others–notes:

The American people in their unimaginable kindness and trust voted for a pig in a poke in 2008. They wanted so much to believe Barack Obama was somehow better and different from other ultra-leftists that they simply took him on faith.

They ignored his anti-white writings in his books. They ignored his quiet acceptance of hysterical anti-American diatribes by his minister, Jeremiah Wright.

They ignored his refusal to explain years at a time of his life as a student. They ignored his ultra-left record as a “community organizer,” Illinois state legislator, and Senator.

Well, duh.

Perhaps if the American public hadn’t been told for eight long years (by the media, liberal punditry, liberal politicians, and the average run-of-the-mill liberal on the street) that Bush was worse than Hitler and his policies an utter disaster, they would have been less receptive to the inane “third way” candidate that Obama pretended to be.  But I digress.

Part of the problem is that the public has an innate distrust of government, possibly because excepting the military, the federal government fouls most everything it touches, a point that wasn’t entirely lost on the president himself, as the Miami Herald notes:

If President Barack Obama got anything indisputably right at his news conference last week, it was this: The American people don’t trust the federal government.That’s a major reason he’s having such a hard time selling his plan to overhaul the nation’s health care. Even if they like Obama himself, people just don’t think that the government can handle anything big, let alone something as personal to them as their health care.

“I understand that people are feeling uncertain about this. They feel anxious, partly because we’ve just become so cynical about what government can accomplish that people’s attitudes are, you know, even though I don’t like this devil, at least I know it, and I like that more than the devil I don’t know,” the president said.

“So folks are skeptical. And that is entirely legitimate, because they haven’t seen a lot of laws coming out of Washington lately that helped them.”

I would submit that the problem is that there are too many laws coming out of Washington that remove freedoms and treat the American citizen as though he were a helpless child.  That is, after all, one of the core arguments against President Obama’s proposed health care reforms: it will remove invaluable and precious individual freedoms and choices with no appreciable increase in either the quality or affordability in health care.

Most irritating of all is the liberal tendency to examine a problem solely in contemporary terms in order to ignore the point of origin, which almost always happens to involve government interference.  Hence, we are continuously told that tax rates under Obama will return to “Clinton era rates”, as though there is some natural rate of taxation inherent in economic models that only Clinton was clever enough to discern.  Liberals act as though from the moment of creation the top income tax bracket stood at 37% until Bush malevolently lowered it to its current level.

Thus, liberals are wont to examine the current shortfalls in the health care system–which, by the way, is still the greatest system in the world–and conclude that the problem is the free market system of delivery.  Never-mind that historically, prior to Medicare, health insurance was predominantly catastrophic, and people (gasp!) paid for everything else.  It is the government that distorts demand and encourages inefficiency through its endless labyrinthine array of regulations, bureaucracy, and reimbursement schedules.  It is the government that allows frivolous litigation at no cost to the litigant bringing outlandish claims before the court.  It is the government that refuses to cap punitive damages in malpractice suits.  It is the government that has mandated insurance minimums that are so stultifyingly remarkable as to be nearly unnavigable and unmanageable.  In the mind of the modern liberal, however, government interference in the health market is the natural state of things, as ancient as civilization itself, and it is the free market that is experimental, dangerous, and inefficient.

President Obama’s failure to understand the simplest rules of economics has not gone entirely unremarked upon.  Fred Barnes, writing in the The Weekly Standard, astutely observes the seeming economic illiteracy of the Obama administration:

Obama professes to believe in free market economics. But no one expects his policies to reflect the unfettered capitalism of a Milton Friedman. That’s too much to ask. Demonstrating a passing acquaintance with free market ideas and how they might be used to fight the recession–that’s not too much to ask.

But the president talks as if free market solutions are nonexistent, and in his mind they may be. Three weeks after taking office, he said only government “has the resources to jolt our economy back into life.” He hasn’t retreated, in words or policies, from that view.

At his press conference, Obama endorsed a surtax on families earning more than $1 million a year to pay for his health care initiative. This is no way to get the country out of a recession. Like them or not, millionaires are the folks whose investments create growth and jobs–which are, after all, exactly what the president is hoping for.

Barnes is closer to the truth than even he imagines, in all likelihood.  To President Obama’s mind, Bush’s policies–which were decidedly not in keeping with a Friedmanesque view of capitalism on many occasions–represents free market capitalism in all its iniquity.  Free market capitalism has thus failed, and the only acceptable solution is massive government oversight and intervention.  But it’s worse than that.

At the heart of it, modern American liberals don’t believe health care, more than any other sector of the economy, ought to function under free market principles at all.  They believe that highly trained, highly disciplined, and highly skilled physicians, who toil in academia for most of their adult lives before they can even intern, and intern under hellish conditions before they can safely practice medicine with the hope of eeking out even a meager profit, ought to become physicians for strictly utilitarian purposes.  They ought to take vows of poverty and healing ought to be its own reward.  Then, and only then, will the “inherent” iniquities of deciding what procedures are performed, on whom, and for how much money, be righted.

In reality, the free market is the best way to determine all manner of questions on the distribution of goods and services.  Only the free market produces unique and creative means of collective risk management mechanisms–that would be insurance–to help those without a surfeit of cash enjoy good health.  It’s why the dollar is so ingenious: in addition to being a store of value and a voting mechanism, money is completely arbitrary.  It doesn’t care whether you are black, white, Catholic, Protestant, liberal, or conservative.

Stimulus may have been a blessing in disguise.  President Obama got an early opportunity to demonstrate his manifest ignorance on matters of economy and government intervention.  The more stimulus is believed to hurt and not help the economy, the less the public will trust President Obama with matters of economics.  The more he props up straw men that “only want to cut taxes”, who “don’t want to do anything about health care”, and who “want to continue business as usual”, the more he will be seen as a blind ideologue who doesn’t understand the nature of complex transactions in a free market, or the proper orientation of government to the private sector.  More and more, the people will make known their preference: more freedom over promises of a government created utopia.

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