By now you may have caught the LIBRE Initiative report of President Obama telling a town hall audience to consider cutting personal expenses to afford health insurance under the [Un]affordable Care Act. Here’s the quote:
[Obama] responded to a question received via email, from a consumer who makes $36,000 per year and cannot find insurance for a family of three for less than $315 per month. The President responded that “if you looked at their cable bill, their telephone, their cell phone bill… it may turn out that, it’s just they haven’t prioritized health care.” He added that if a family member gets sick, the father “will wish he had paid that $300 a month.”
Imagine a Republican politician saying the same thing. The leftist media would go apoplectic.
While that may appear to be a partisan double standard, the truth has more to do with ideology than parties. A Republican telling people to prioritize healthcare expenses over their cable or cell phone would likely do so in a free-market context where such priorities would serve the consumer’s individual interest. Obama, by contrast, asks people to sacrifice for the sake of others.
Obamacare depends upon its mandated enrollments to fund its mandated benefits, a process designed to redistribute wealth. Since paying for others is considered morally superior to paying for yourself in Obama’s worldview, he advises cancelling your cable or cell phone to pay for Obamacare. A Republican offering the same advice in a free-market context would be castigated not primarily for the notion of prioritization, but for the notion of self-reliance. Prioritizing to benefit yourself — bad. Prioritizing to benefit others — good.
The philosophical underpinning of Obama’s comment is altruism, the idea that you exist for the sake of others. The countervailing idea, that you exist for your own sake, is egoism. Obama gets away with his comment not because he’s a Democrat so much as because our culture embraces altruism and bristles at egoism.
Critics of the president would do well to focus on that point rather then the “audacity” of suggesting families might need to prioritize one expense over another. Indeed, families will always need to prioritize one expense over another. That’s part of being an adult in the real world. An alternative to Obamacare should not promise a world without prioritization, but a world where the priorities which individuals choose redound to their own benefit.