Can the Moral 'Narrative' of ObamaCare Be Defeated?

President Obama has finally demanded an “up or down vote” on his health care plan. Republicans have already raised numerous economic and procedural objections, arguing that his plan relies on economic “smoke and mirrors” and that the president is now endorsing the same controversial “reconciliation” process that he denounced in 2005 as a senator as “the wrong place for policy changes.” Yet the president and his supporters remain committed to their goal of government-run “universal health care.” Why is that?


The key is Obama’s declaration, “I don’t know how this plays politically, but I know it’s right.” Ultimately, Obama and his liberal base believe that government-guaranteed health care is a “moral imperative” — i.e., “it’s right.” And that will also be the key to defeating it.

As Leonard Peikoff once wrote, “So long as people believe that socialized medicine is a noble plan, there is no way to fight it. You cannot stop a noble plan — not if it really is noble. The only way you can defeat it is to unmask it — to show that it is the very opposite of noble. Then at least you have a fighting chance.”

Hence, one must challenge ObamaCare not merely on the economic or procedural levels but on the moral level. One must challenge the underlying moral “narrative,” which runs something like this:

“No one should live in fear that they could get sick and be unable to afford treatment. Everyone has a basic right to health care. Hence, the government must guarantee basic ‘health security’ for everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. That’s just the right thing to do.”

Opponents might argue that any attempt to guarantee an alleged “right” to health care necessarily infringes on the freedoms of those obliged to provide and pay for such care. The liberals then typically reply:


“What good is freedom if you’re dying of cancer? Freedom won’t pay your medical bills. Freedom is overrated when your life is at stake. I’d rather have the security of guaranteed health care, not freedom!”

Yet a curious inversion occurs when liberals discuss similar issues of freedom and domestic security.

Suppose a would-be tyrant proposed preventing terrorism by imposing a comprehensive system of domestic surveillance. The government would monitor all conversations, track all personal spending, and conduct random personal searches, arguing that:

”No one should live in fear that a terrorist bomb might snuff out their life at a moment’s notice, while shopping for groceries or playing with their kids in the park. Safety and security are essential to civilized life. Hence, the government must guarantee ‘universal security’ by monitoring potential terrorists before they strike.”

Liberals would be outraged. They would correctly argue that such a system of “universal security” would essentially enslave Americans, thus destroying what’s essential about America in the name of allegedly protecting it.

Thoughtful liberals would also correctly observe that ultimately, there is no conflict between freedom and security. Instead, the only way for a government to guarantee long-term security is by scrupulously respecting and protecting essential American freedoms. Only a free society will possess the robustness and vitality necessary to defend itself against threats to that freedom. And more importantly, only such a free society would be worth defending.


The same argument applies to the health care debate. The only way Americans can protect their long-term access to quality medical care is by demanding that the government respect their freedom and individual rights. Any system of “universal” health care necessarily requires a bureaucracy to control who can receive what services and when — if only to control costs. The medical rationing in Canada and the UK are typical results. In these countries, far from being a “right,” health care becomes just another privilege to be dispensed at the discretion of the bureaucrats.

ObamaCare would also stifle medical innovation, as Glenn Reynolds and others have observed. The medical advances we currently take for granted may not be there in 10-15 years, resulting in thousands of needless “deaths by regulation.” In contrast, in the least regulated sectors of health care (such as LASIK and cosmetic surgery), we see the typical pattern over time of falling prices and rising quality that we take for granted with cell phones and computers. This can and should be the norm in all of health care.

But what if someone needs care but can’t afford it? In a free society, who would pay for his care?

The answer: anyone who wished to.

Americans have always been magnificently generous in helping those in dire straits through no fault of their own. But anyone in such need must rely on voluntary charity, not government coercion.


If someone needed $10,000 for an operation, he is free to ask his neighbors for voluntary assistance, and they are free to offer it (or not). But it would be immoral for him steal that money from his neighbor’s college fund — or to steal $100 from 100 of his neighbors. His need does not give him an automatic “right” to his neighbors’ wealth. Using the government as his agent in such theft does not somehow make it morally right.

The government should not rob men to pay their neighbors’ medical bills. Instead, it should protect each man’s right to his hard-earned wealth, including respecting his right to decide whether and how he should save it, spend it, or give to others as charity. That’s “the right thing to do.”

And as with domestic security, in the end there is no fundamental conflict between freedom and health care. The only way we preserve our ability to receive quality affordable medical care is by respecting core principles of freedom and individual rights.

If we violate those principles in a vain attempt to guarantee “universal health care,” we will violate the moral principle that each man is entitled to the fruits of his labor, instead enslaving each man to pay for his neighbor’s medical care. We will destroy the prosperity and innovation that make modern medicine possible. We will give the government control over how doctors may practice, and which treatments patients may or may not receive. Our lives will no longer be ours, but rather the government’s. The end result will be, in Leonard Peikoff’s words, “the very opposite of noble.”


Benjamin Franklin once said, “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.” Let us not ignobly enslave ourselves for an illusion of “guaranteed health care.” We’ll have neither freedom nor health care — and we’ll deserve neither.


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