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What Ronald Reagan has to say about today's "bipartisan" circus on health care

Gentlemen, start your teleprompters.

The nation readies itself for the spectacle of Obama's special exercise in showmanship and partisan bi-partisanship, offering Republicans and the American people once last chance to sign on to the Democratic plan to take health care out of the hands of us plebs and hand it over to a caring, sharing government.

Any moment now, we will be treated to the President of the United States lecturing us about how he is going to improve health care by making it worse, how he is going to save money by spending $1 trillion dollars, how he is going to make the delivery of health care more efficient by turning it over to a government bureaucracy.

Does anyone -- anyone -- really believe him? Does he believe himself?

I do not know.

What I do know is that we've been down this road before. And one person who saw what socialized medicine was all about was Ronald Reagan. I've quoted from this magnificent speech before. Let me quote from it again: "One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people," Reagan observed, "has been by way of medicine. It's very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project."

Ask Americans whether they want socialized medicine: the invariable answer is no. As Reagan notes, Truman tried it. He failed. But just present socialism as a liberal project and you can get people to roll over, wave their arms and legs in the air, and empty their wallets.

And that's what's been happening by degrees in this country.

Listen to Reagan's whole speech here.

Perhaps the Republicans should simply play this soundtrack when the President stops talking. Note the bit about how imposing just a little bit of government control of medicine can be a foot in the door, providing a "mechanism that is indefinitely expandable" until it embraces the entire population. Remember that in the days to come.

And remember what Reagan said about the appeal to emotion: "Most people are a little reluctant to oppose anything that suggests medical care for people who possibly can't afford it." Quite right.

Of course, it is "ridiculous," as Reagan says to suggest that anyone in this country wants to deny medical care to people who can't afford -- except, that is, the utilitarians in charge of Obama's health care plan -- folks like Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel , who famously suggested doctors took the Hippocratic Oath -- "first do no harm" -- too seriously.

The odd thing, rhetorically, is that the people who are proposing to take our freedom away, load us with higher taxes, and give us much poorer health care have managed to wrap themselves, successfully, in the mantle of virtue. It has to do with that reluctance Reagan mentioned.

Compassion, as I noted in an earlier column on this subject,

is a noble human emotion. But it can be exploited by unscrupulous politicians and twisted into self-flagellating feelings of guilt, on one side, and the self-regarding emotion of virtue, on the other. . . .

[Obama argues that there is ] "a moral imperative to health care." Is there? What he meant was that if you agree with his proposal, you are an upstanding citizen who deserves the warm, self-regarding glow of moral infatuation. If you disagree with him, however, you are a greedy, selfish, unenlightened person who needs . . . well, the President hasn't gotten around to that part of the scenario yet, except to note that anyone who is solvent can expect higher taxes.

Let me say a few words more about this. Why do I find it frightening when Obama starts talking about there being "a moral imperative to health care"? Is it not an expression of benevolence? Indeed it is. But that is far from reassuring. Why? The Australian philosopher David Stove got to the heart of the problem when he noted that the combination of universal benevolence fired by uncompromising moralism was a toxic brew. "Either element on its own," Stove observed,

is almost always comparatively harmless. A person who is convinced that he has a moral obligation to be benevolent, but who in fact ranks morality below fame (say), or ease; or again, a person who puts morality first, but is also convinced that the supreme moral obligation is, not to be benevolent, but to be holy (say), or wise, or creative: either of these people might turn out to be a scourge of his fellow humans, though in most cases he will not. But even at the worst, the misery which such a person causes will fall incomparably short of the misery caused by Lenin, or Stalin, or Mao, or Ho-Chi-Minh, or Kim-Il-Sung, or Pol Pot, or Castro: persons convinced both of the supremacy of benevolence among moral obligations, and of the supremacy of morality among all things. It is this combination which is infallibly and enormously destructive of human happiness.

Of course, as Stove goes on to note, this "lethal combination" is by no means peculiar to Communists. It provides the emotional fuel for utopians from Robespierre on down. That is the really sobering thing about the emotional metabolism of abstract benevolence: that the capacity for evil so easily cohabits and feeds upon the emotion of virtue.

Keep it in mind as you listen to our masters in Washington.