Political Arrogance Masked as Compassion

Among the links on my Google News page the other day, was a link to a column at philly.com. It was written by Jeff Gelles, a business columnist. In this particular entry to his regular Consumer 12.0 column, Mr. Gells says some quite ridiculous things. Not the least of which is suggesting that Tyler Cowen claimed Obamacare would deliver “health care egalitarianism.” Tyler Cowen did object to “health care egalitarianism” but he made no claim Obama care would deliver it.

But worse than that, Mr. Gelles assumed a pious, arrogant attitude, for which he does not hesitate to pat himself on the back.

Like the Democrats in Congress who ultimately passed Obamacare without a single GOP vote, I’ve long believed our health-care system was broken and needed fixing. Sadly, I seem to have believed so more urgently than Republicans who’d voiced similar concerns in response, say, to Census Bureau data showing 45 million people uninsured even before the Great Recession, or stories of sick people denied lifesaving treatment, or of families bankrupted by costly care.

Well, that does not seem so bad, perhaps you are saying. Maybe you are right. The part of Mr. Gelles column that annoyed me most is the end of it.

There’s a price for all this. The Congressional Budget Office puts the net expense at $110 billion in 2015. And the numbers are wrapped up in the larger necessity — partly addressed by innovations built into Obamacare — of having to “bend the cost curve” for medical care.

But doesn’t a humane society have value, too?

A humane society? Oh yeah, putting our children deeper and deeper into trillions of dollars worth of debt is so humane. Yeah, I am being sarcastic. I have a hard time not being sarcastic when presented with the kind of arrogance Mr. Gelles is showing.

Why arrogance? Because Mr. Gelles is oh-so-politely saying that being opposed to Obamacare is inhumane. This is just more of the typical “if you really cared you would agree with me” arrogance that is very much what is wrong with political discourse in this country.

(This is not to say I agree with Tyler Cowan’s article. I do not. But Mr. Cowan’s article made no hubristic claims about what is humane.)

I bristle when people try to tell me what is humane or compassionate in a manner that is intended to shame anyone who disagrees with them. And in this instance, I think Mr. Gelles’s assertion that Obamacare is humane happens to be incorrect. I do not believe makes people more dependent on government is humane. I do not believe incurring ever more public debt is humane. It might be inspired by humane intentions, but the acts themselves are neither compassionate nor beneficial to society. They are short-sighted and serve to make some folks feel better about themselves, but that is not compassion. It is not humane. And it does not create a humane society.

Do not misunderstand me. I believe the health care system in the U.S. is a mess in many ways. But a large part of that mess stems from too much top-down government control. We are not going to fix it with more top-down control. Health insurance needs to be decoupled from employment (which was an innovation we got back during the New Deal when the government tried to control how much businesses could pay people for work), and we need to eliminate the laws the prevent people from getting health care from companies in other states. We need to put an end to government, via the Medicare and Medicaid programs, effectively setting price controls on health care. Price controls do not work. We have hobbled the health care market, and we bitch about how it does not do what we need it to do. It is kind of like tethering a horse’s hind legs together and then complaining that the horse does not walk fast enough.

(Am I arguing for no regulations in health care? No. At another time, I may argue for a more open market in health care, but that is not the topic of this post.)

I am sure Mr. Gelles means well. I am sure his intentions are good. But I do not buy that Obamacare is humane. And I find ridiculous Mr. Gelles’s suggestion that we ought to overlook the cost of Obamacare to have a humane society. Also the implication that opposing Obamacare is inhumane is something I believe to be an insult. I have heard a number of complaints during my life about how Christians claim theirs is the only true religion. Well, I am tired of people talking as if their ideology was the only way for those with intentions compassionate or humane or helpful or kind. ’Cause here is a clue: I believe most of the top-down “government will fix it” solutions are neither compassionate nor helpful. I believe they are largely short-sighted and deleterious. So when someone smugly suggests their top-down government “government will fix it” solution is necessary to be humane, it is an insult.

I oppose Obamacare exactly because I want society to be humane. No, I do not want the poor to suffer and die without care. I also do not want the poor and the middle class perpetually dependent on government for health care. I believe that would be detrimental to society. I am not saying someone cannot be compassionate and support Obama care. Of course that can happen. But we are not going to get far in public debate over health care if people start from the arrogant assumption that their preferred option is the only one for people with compassion and anything else must therefore stem from something other than compassion. Or, put another way, our compassion needs to include not just sympathy for those in need, but also some empathy for those who disagree with us.

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