Health care debate depends on whether you believe compassion is a virtue or a vice.
Image from Flickr user Ian Crowther
By David Morris
By arrangement with
In a 2011 CNN/Tea Party Express Republican Presidential Debate moderator Wolf Blitzer famously
Blitzer followed up by asking Paul if he meant, “society should just let him die?” Members of the audience yelled, “Yeah”. It was a Tea Party meeting after all. Paul waffled. He conceded intervention might be necessary but insisted the cost should be borne voluntarily by “(our) neighbors, our friends, our churches.”
Now Obamacare is in place. The hypothetical has become real. In the last few weeks we’ve learned of at least two Republicans who refused to buy health insurance and then launched GoFundMe initiatives when they encountered medical difficulties.
In November 2014 self-employed Richard Mack’s wife was hospitalized and then in early January he himself suffered a heart attack. His son launched a
Mack’s opposition to Obamacare is political: a former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona he is the founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a group he
More widely reported is the case of Luis Lang, a forty-nine-year-old self-employed resident of Fort Mill, South Carolina, who always prided himself on paying his own medical expenses. He suffered a series of mini-strokes earlier this year and ended up with bleeding in the eyes, a partially detached retina, and a need for very expensive medical care to save his eyesight. He’s been out of work since December. His
“May God continue to watch over you and bless all that you do for this nation under siege.”
Ron Paul might view Richard Mack’s situation as a perfect example of his libertarian philosophy. He chose not to buy insurance. He now needs financial assistance; his family and friends have rallied to his support, largely because of his political activities. One donor wrote, “Thank you for your sacrifice in the fight for our freedom.” Another said, “Keep up the fight and with the full armour [sic] of God we will prevail. Thanks be to God for your stand for freedom and for not giving in to the Obama care demands.” Another commented, “May God continue to watch over you and bless all that you do for this nation under siege.” And another declared, “Thanks for never surrendering to federal tyranny.”
To me, however, Lang’s case is more instructive. Lang is not a public figure. He’s not a political rallying point. Moreover, his is a case study in personal irresponsibility. He is a long time smoker who has been lax in controlling his diabetes. He knew that his eyes needed serious medical attention for some time.
When the Charlotte Observer first
Lang was asking for help primarily from strangers. Revealingly, a significant majority of those who gave were self-described
After reviewing the comments, Lang reflected on his GoFundMe page, “I have to give a big thumbs up to the liberal side. Even though you have crucified me in your comments but you spoke with your heart with donations… As far as the conservative side I wish they would step up to the plate and do there [sic] part.”
Which brings us to the crux of the debate about Obamacare or any government sponsored health insurance. Conservatives, circa 2015, do not believe it is their obligation to help. Lang made his choice and he must live with the consequences. The modern day conservative’s guru is Ayn Rand, who viewed compassion as inherently dehumanizing, an emotion that, if acted upon, diminishes the self. “Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others…” she
In Ayn Rand’s world, we are most definitely not our neighbor’s keepers. Republicans political leaders in the twenty-one states that have refused to expand Medicaid despite the fact that it would cost the state virtually nothing to do so are clearly of that mindset.
Adam Smith believed in altruism and compassion. Indeed, in his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments Smith argued that humans’ innate sense of empathy and sympathy forms the basis for civilized life.
I’m sure these Republicans would declare their allegiance to Adam Smith as fervently as they do to Ayn Rand. But there’s the rub. Adam Smith believed in altruism and compassion. Indeed, in his book
The comments on Lang’s GoFundMe page may have changed his own politics. In an interview with ThinkProgress he
Luis Lang’s views on medical care have changed dramatically. He now favors a health care system that enables everyone to have coverage regardless of their income level. No more means testing. No more enrollment periods. No more mountains of paperwork and bureaucracies. Lang says he now agrees “one-hundred percent” with the people who commented on his crowdfunding page that health care is a human right.
Individual charity cannot sustain such a level of collective need.
Richard Mack and Luis Lang are individuals seeking the help of individuals. They may succeed in their campaigns. But if one million or even one-thousand individuals tried to create GoFundMe campaigns to deal with large medical expenses they would inevitably come up short no matter how many compassionate people are out there. Individual charity cannot sustain such a level of collective need.
Which is why we have Medicare and Medicaid and the Veterans’ Administration. Yet even with these, tens of millions of Americans lack access to adequate medical care. Many millions have been plunged into bankruptcy because of medical expenses. Obamacare was established to deal with these stark facts. The case of Luis Lang demonstrates that Obamacare is only a step in the right direction. Ultimately, as Mr. Lang now understands, we need to view adequate health care as a human right, available to all. Virtually every industrialized nation already
David Morris is co-founder and vice president of the Minneapolis- and DC-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its Public Good Initiative. His books include The New City-States and We Must Make Haste Slowly: The Process of Revolution in Chile.