Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Serious Question Regarding Social Programs

for Small-Government Conservatives

Let me immediately identify myself as a sociopolitical Progressive, although do I try to be pragmatic about it. I believe that there should be various kinds and levels of “social safety nets” available to all people, recognize that the economic investment necessary to provide them is expensive, and yes, it requires a “redistribution of wealth” just as surely as does providing for “the common defense.”

Conservatives seem alright with that when it comes to maintaining overwhelming military might, but less so when it provides for social programs. They often give the impression that they believe these public services are being given to those who are for whatever reason, undeserving. When it comes to those less worthy, well, “It’s my money, and the government has no right to it without my express consent!” In addition, “The Government is inept, and I can better handle my money to provide for myself and my family!”

I agree that remedying waste, uncovering fraud, and maintaining a reasonable degree of efficiency are eternal battles when it comes to any bureaucratic functions, especially government. But government, in my perspective, is less about breaking even than it is about providing services and marshaling efforts that can only be achieved collectively.

I believe that cooperation is every bit as important as is competition in a healthy society despite the latter value being more heavily promoted. I believe in universal healthcare, although I recognize that the sky cannot be the limit – but that’s another discussion! I believe that in any solvent society healthcare is a human right, not a privilege, meaning that if an individual or other association cannot obtain it through their own reasonable efforts, it is the government’s duty to insure that it is accessible. If it is instead a privilege, a humane conservative – there are many such - may want to make legal and economic adjustments and offer incentives to maximize an individual’s opportunity to obtain healthcare, but ultimately, it is solely up to the individual to succeed or fail in that regard. Voluntary charities may provide some relief, but assistance is not required.

For the model to which I subscribe to be functional, everyone must participate otherwise we need to pick up the cost for “freeloaders” who could have contributed but did not. If you have no insurance, and you cannot afford private pay, clinics and hospitals are required to give you service nonetheless, and I agree that this is the maximally humane thing to do. But let’s just say that the financial viability of my preferred system is my problem, and consider you, the conservative individualist, who wants no part of it. Suppose I acknowledge our differences of opinion and of preference and agree that you may “opt out” of participation in such a network. All you have to do is foreswear utilization of its benefits.

Perhaps you have obtained employment that provides a good healthcare benefit; that’s excellent, and congratulations! Maybe you have made smart investments, receive regular dividends, and your family is healthy, and you can pay sufficient premiums for a private insurance plan, or have wealth enough to write out a check directly to your doctor, clinic, or hospital. Everybody’s happy, everybody is taken care of.

But you certainly know that there are reversals of fortune. No one is buying buggy-whips anymore and your company shuts down. A line of bad speculation distorts the stock market and your portfolio is now worth pennies. Your spouse contracts a disease that is expensive to treat, or you give birth to a child with a congenital defect. What do we do now? Humanity says that we take care of you regardless of your ability to pay; but you signed a waiver that you would not use public medical resources.

What do we do? Do you agree that, life is uncertain, you made your choice and “them’s the breaks,” and you, your child, or spouse should be turned away from lifesaving services and be allowed to perhaps die, comfortably or not? Really?

That is the way of life in nature, certainly, and in less complex societies. The strong, healthy, and wealthy dominate, and the rest… are less relevant.

This controversy is of course also germane to our other great socialized program, Social Security. Grandpa wasn’t clever enough, or didn’t plan ahead sufficiently for him and Gram, Dad died early, and Mom is living with us and we’re barely getting by. It was nice knowing you, Gramp, say hi to St. Pete, willya?

Sure I’m painting a caricature here to draw out the point. What do we do? If you listen to some over-the-top bombast, “Obamacare” is the most vile and unmitigated evil that has ever been visited upon the world, maybe worse than the Holocaust. Well, what’s your alternative? Tort reform and a $2000.- medical allowance are going to solve all of the problems of rising healthcare costs, of pre-existing conditions, of chronic catastrophic illness, and of access to care? Capitalism is the greatest good, and Government is the worst evil? Do you really believe that?

But I'd settle for people staking out a position so we know what we're arguing over: is it right, or a privilege? Let’s take it from there.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010


There is something ludicrous about a privileged majority claiming discrimination, but certain American Christians love to play the victim card, complaining that their rights and traditions are being suppressed in favor of some suspect minority. Ms. H.’s November 9th letter to the editor is a recent example. She resurrects the nonsense regarding the so-called 9/11 Victory Mosque in New York and accuses the Obama White House of promoting a supposed War on Christmas, concluding that her "right" to her beliefs is being attacked.

I know of no movement to close churches, prevent their construction, or determine where they may be built; see no effort to ban Bibles, remove them from libraries, or create media circuses by burning them; there is no law preventing full-Gospel radio or TV from preaching "the Word" and soliciting tax-free contributions while doing so; Christians are still free to deposit pamphlets on my windshield or harangue me on the street about going to Hell because I hold the wrong beliefs; no one is trying to legislate who may or may not marry whom in their own denomination or as a civil matter; and no one is preventing them from displaying a crèche and a sign proclaiming "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" on their own private property.

They seem to think that this is their very own "Christian Nation" and that they should therefore receive special privileges including government assistance in promoting their faith with (carefully worded) prayers in schools, religious monuments and holiday displays on public grounds, their mottos emblazoned on our currency and courthouse walls, and their prayers opening government assemblies. They expect laws to enforce their particular beliefs regarding marital relationships, reproduction, and end-of-life decisions, and to allow them some sort of "right to discriminate" in housing or employment against those not of their creed because non-Christian Americans are apparently second-class citizens.

Some of their feelings are hurt by some people questioning their beliefs or some artists expressing their opinions of their faith in sometime crude terms. I certainly agree that we have become an impolite society, but you would think that they were about to be fed to the lions from their shrill outrage! How dare a Christian be mocked in their own nation! As for the President not promoting a Christian Christmas, perish forbid there is ever a Jewish or (horrors!) atheist occupant of the White House! They refuse to acknowledge that we are a pluralistic, multicultural, secular society and that most of the changes in our holiday expressions are business-driven, not part of any nefarious social or governmental plot.

It is high time that these insular and arrogant Christians grow up and recognize that this country belongs to all of us and that they have to learn to share. You get no more rights than do other beliefs, and they get no less than you.