Once again, Sarah Palin brings the essence of a disputed policy into sharp focus. With dramatic flourish she illustrated average Americans’ concerns with her own in a post on her Facebook fan page. She said:
The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.
Health care by definition involves life and death decisions. Human rights and human dignity must be at the center of any health care discussion.
The bolded sentence caused an outcry on the left, but also among Republicans trying to take a measured tone. Ezra Klein interviewed Sen. Johnny Isakson and asked:
How did this become a question of euthanasia?
I have no idea. I understand — and you have to check this out — I just had a phone call where someone said Sarah Palin’s web site had talked about the House bill having death panels on it where people would be euthanized. How someone could take an end of life directive or a living will as that is nuts. You’re putting the authority in the individual rather than the government. I don’t know how that got so mixed up.
Now wait just a minute. Talk about conflating the debate or, more likely, being willfully obtuse. Sarah Palin rightfully notes at the end that a government involved with health care issues will be involved in life and death decisions.
Since the goal of government-run health care is to insure everyone while simultaneously holding down costs (an outrageous goal on its face), decisions will have to be made. Those decisions will be made by the ones paying the bills — the government bureaucratic panel of political appointees. This is already happening in Oregon where there is a public option health care system.
The majority of health care expenses occur at the end of life. Right now, doctors and family members struggle with the ethical decisions individually. A way to cut costs would be to make central decisions — a “death panel,” if you will. How will the decisions be made? Well, political advocacy groups with the most power will push the panel to make certain choices. There will be bias. But mostly, there will be political correctness and bottom-line decision making by a very small group of people.
Americans on both sides of the debate are looking at the guts of the bill, sure, but more than that, they are seeing the debate as philosophical. That is, those in favor of the public option, those who support the president, believe that health care is a right like clean air and water. They believe the collective should pay for the health care of the less fortunate. If that means cutting some services, rationing, and cutting costs on a few, to serve the whole, so be it. On the other side of the debate, those who support a free-market solution to the health care challenges see the public option as an intrusive, taxpayer-funded way to give a vast, unaccountable bureaucracy far more power.
Sarah Palin rightly sees the debate in philosophical terms. The American people do, too. People are arguing over this and that provision, but the reason there is a depth of feeling on this issue is because people perceive that health care legislation would be a fundamental shift in the nature of what it means to be an American.
President Barack Obama fights for soft European socialism. Governor Sarah Palin fights for free-market American individualism.
Many of the punditry on both sides get lost in the minutiae of the bill. Republicans, defensive about the narrative pushed forward by the media that they don’t have any plans, have been furiously demonstrating that they do, in fact, have plans. And, of course, they do. There are bipartisan plans. Jim DeMint has a plan. The Senate doctors Coburn and Barrasso, both Republicans, have discussed, thoroughly and thoughtfully, the different health care plans. It has been excellent and educational. And in a way, they’re all missing the point. Both Republicans and Democrats have plans.
First, though, Americans need to decide the foundational philosophical questions. Is the safety of a government-run health care system worth the risk to freedom and individual liberties? Do we believe the government can be more efficient and cost-effective than the free market?
The answers to both these questions seem to be bubbling up. A Rasmussen poll shows that only 32% of people want a single-payer system — which the public option would lead to, as both Barney Frank and the president himself have said. Americans see clearly that the health care system is imperfect. Still, the proposed solution seems to be worse than the problem.
In addition, with the debt, the deficit, and the unrestrained spending, Americans are quite sensibly rejecting a vast new entitlement program. Sarah Palin clearly reflects this sentiment. In fact, she is one of the few voices brave enough to stand with the will of the majority. Too many other Republicans are afraid to be viewed as obstructionist to recognize that they sound out of touch with their own grassroots constituents on the right.
The Democrats don’t like the answers the American people are giving and thus have upped the rhetoric and resorted to name calling. In the last week, opponents of government-run health care have been compared to Nazis by the speaker of the House. They have also been called “un-American,” “terrorists,” “the mob,” and more. That’s a sign Democrats have lost the philosophical debate.
Instead of calling out Sarah Palin, critics need to realize she’s defining the health care debate philosophically. Really, she’s doing the same thing President Barack Obama is doing. It isn’t like he’s been discussing specifics. He’s been trying to convince people that the government can provide more coverage at less cost than the private sector. He’s been trying to convince people that health care is a right. He has not been mentioning the trade-offs people make when giving the government that much power. Sarah Palin is doing that. She is acting as a clear voice in opposition to a powerful government.
Interestingly, the majority of Americans agree with Sarah Palin, not President Obama.