The old Democratic argument that health care is a “right” has always rankled me. Extending the definition of Rights to include anything in the world that seems like a good idea cheapens what we have achieved. In our political system Rights are sacrosanct. As citizens and heirs to a great legacy we have an obligation to live, fight and if necessary die to protect the Rights that gave birth to the American idea.
A good education, a job, a nice home, health insurance, life insurance, a car; these are all valuable. Using government policy to make them more broadly available is great. But are they inalienable Rights granted by our creator and equally guaranteed to all people? Absolutely not.
That said, you can always count on those Paul Boys to take a perfectly reasonable idea and go to eleven with it. Rand Paul in a committee hearing this week on health care launched into an argument that quite frankly I have used myself in the past – that extending Rights into the economic sphere violates the 13th Amendment bar on slavery. Then he ran away with it. I had never before heard the idea taken to its most absurd reaches. In light of Paul’s ridiculous argument, I see I was wrong.
Here’s what Paul said, along with video:
“With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to healthcare, you have to realize what that implies. It’s not an abstraction. I’m a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me.
“It means you believe in slavery. It means that you’re going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses…there is an implied use of force.
“If I’m a physician in your community and you say you have a right to healthcare, you have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you? That’s ultimately what the right to free healthcare would be.”
Paul accidentally exposes the inconsistency that cripples Libertarianism and the Objectivists. Paul is going beyond the debate over socialized medicine to equate every form of collective action with oppression. By that intellectually stunted reasoning civilization itself is slavery. Citizenship is tyranny. Any form of collective activity that fails to offer an explicit, personalized window to opt-out is theft.
He’s saying literally that if the state defined health insurance as a Right then anyone delivering health care would be made slaves. Why? Because if someone has a Right to my labor, I am a slave to them.
My reading of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers suggests to me pretty strongly that I have a clear Right to, among other things, national defense, a justice system, and a jury trial. So, out on the bizarre fringes where the Paul Boys pass their lives, those who deliver those services are slaves.
The soldiers drafted to fight World War II were slaves, every one of them. Jurors – slaves. Their labor is being extorted from them and redistributed to someone who “needs” justice. And what happens if those jurors decide to do something other than come to court? Jackbooted thugs come and drag them back. In PaulWorld (and the Tea Party?) that’s slavery.
Judges? Black-robed slaves, forced to labor for other ‘s benefit because someone claims a “right” under the “Constitution” to have their legal grievances addressed.
And best of all, I have a Right to be represented by Congressmen and Senators whom I choose in free elections. See where I’m going here? As a Senator subject to my Rights and everyone else’s, Rand Paul is by his own definition already a slave.
Sound ridiculous? You bet it is.
Those who lazily describe health insurance as a “right” are trivializing not just the notion of rights, but the spectacular sacrifices required across centuries to guarantee them. The Democratic Party’s embrace of this thinking is a disgrace. Those who trivialize slavery in the manner of Sen. Paul are doing exactly the same thing. This kind of snarky libertarianism is the sulking, spoiled teenager of our political culture. It is rotting us at the core. The right’s embrace of this thinking is an embarrassment.
Paul’s overblown analogy exposed a nasty concept that’s ruining the conservative movement – the idea that there are no authentic values that extend beyond the individual. On the one side of our politics are people who seem to think citizenship is only about what government can take from someone else and give to them. The other side is blind to all government does, imagines they are the only ones producing anything valuable, and defines every civic obligation as tyranny. In the middle are…well, increasingly few who are holding the whole experiment together.
If every obligation we have to each other, every duty we owe to our heritage, to our nation, and to those who would follow us is oppression, we have a short future. Like it or not, we are in this together. Citizenship means shared burdens and shared rewards. If that’s “collectivism,” then the Earth has yet to experience a non-collectivist civilization. And it never will.
Almost any idea applied rigidly and without reason to every conceivable scenario will break down into absurdity. Such is life. Our oppressive civic duties might be relieved someday, perhaps the day after the need to work for a living disappears. In the meantime a little maturity might help us recognize the shades of black and white that torment dogmatic minds.
I’m sure Sen. Paul is sitting in his grim Washington slave cabin right now pining for lost liberty. Under the cruel hand of slavery, maybe the Paul Boys will change their minds about Abe Lincoln. Regardless, I hope they both find their way back to freedom very soon.
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