Thursday, October 01, 2009

Caleb Makes Me Clarify

My friend, antagonist, and fellow Kansan and FPR-contributor Caleb Stegall takes me to task over a passage from my last health care post. I said:

The way I see it, unless you’re a Friedmanesque fiscal conservative and genuinely believe that any possible health care reform which comes out of Washington DC will positively bankrupt us once and for all and send the nation back to the Stone Age, or unless you’re Hitleresque fascist and genuinely believe that any attempt to make more effective the meager health care options available to the poor or unlucky in our nation will lead to total cultural meltdown, you need to lighten up here. There is much that can be productively debated about what’s happening in Congress right now, much that, in turn, both liberals and conservatives may have reason to oppose. But good grief: these are proposals that, whatever else they do, will result in fewer medical bankruptcies and fewer uncompensated costs from unnecessary emergency room visits, and by and large leave everyone who is satisfied with the current insurance alone. What could possibly be wrong with any of that? That there is much which could be better, I’ll happily admit. (Single-payer, all the way!) But we’re looking at the likelihood in a real improvement in an area that’s been a growing, frequently-patched-up-but-never-truly-fixed mess since the Truman administration.

He responded:

Let me be clear, and I think I will speak for a considerable, though minority, constituency: I have no interest in any ”real improvement” coming out of Washington. My ears are entirely deaf to any argument that this or that national policy initiative will make domestic life “better” in any way. Setting aside the fact that I don’t believe such claims for a second, even if they were demonstrably true, I simply don’t and won’t care. I side instead with Sam Adams: “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, [MRIs and little blue pills better than self-reliance and the air that is sweeter in your lungs because it is the air of your own place, built, shared, defended, and loved by your own heart and hands and those of your fellow freemen], go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!”

Arguably, that makes me a heartless bastard, and certainly a libertarian-communitarian, anarcho-capitalist, scots-presbyterian, prairie-populist, spirit-of-’76-er, but Hitleresque?

To which I must respond:

Okay Caleb, you nailed me. Bad choice of words there, and I’ll willingly take my lumps for it. I guess all I was trying to get across was a fairly simple–though obviously controversial–claim: that while there are many, many particulars regarding the plans floating around Congress which both the right and the left (however broadly and inaccurately defined) can stake serious issue with, I don’t understand how someone, given the reality of health care in America today (a reality which localists such as Doug Iliff and John Medaille have documented well in recent FPR posts), can take issue with just the general idea of streamlining or equalizing or balancing the various systems of insurance (or non-insurance!) we have today. Unless, that is, they happen to 1) believe that we are teetering on the edge of complete insolvency, and any kind of health care reform will send us over the edge, or 2) believe that providing better and more reliable coverage for the unemployed or the poor will result in a complete inversion of the proper, necessary, roughly inegalitarian order of things. Your comment opens me up to another possibility, to wit: those who 3) believe that any and all centralized action is wrong in principle, whether or not it “works” by any particular metric, and that the association of “better and more” with anything Washington DC does is at best demonstrates a poor love for liberty, at worst complete idiocy.

Number 3) is a pretty powerful claim; certainly it has more internal strength than the other two. Assuming it is correct, am I an idiot? Hopefully not, though more than a few have said so, and I won’t set myself up as a judge of my own case anyway. Am I not a true friend of liberty? There the evidence is a little stronger, I suppose. I am, I confess, more modern than classical--more Marxist than Lockean, to say nothing of Aristotelian--in my thinking about liberty. Which means I’m an egalitarian, and something of a socialist to boot. I just happen to believe that localism and cultural conservatism are better served by, and in turn better support, such egalitarianism, than does a principled (and thus individualistic, I suspect) fear of collective action.

So Caleb, and all who thought I was over the line, forgive my overwrought words, and consider me a work in progress. I’m trying to appreciate the libertarian-communitarian, I truly am. But I’m still a left-leaning localist, an egalitarian-communitarian at heart. Sorry.

Now, let's get back to business--raking Senator Max Baucus over the coals...


Barry said...

His attitude reminds me of those signs which say 'keep government hands off my Medicare!'.

Anonymous said...

Thought you would find this interesting:

lige said...

I think he doesn't understand what the word liberty means.

Baden Fox said...

You handled that well Russ. Good job! I agree that some type of reform is needed (though I lean more with the ideas/approaches of Sen. Kent Conrad & of late my home state Sen. Maria Cantwell) and that something good will get done by the end of the year. Keep up the good blogging you socialist:)

Lee said...

Russell, you're a good sport. You give much more credence to that bleak, borderline-misanthropic worldview than I would. God forbid people would want to act, via their duly elected government, to improve their condition, or extend the terms of the social contract to the most vulnerable among us! We all know that true, virtuous hearty frontiersmen (um, what frontier exactly?) never get sick! And if anyone else does it's because they're weak, degenerate wards of the state. I think you're bumping up against the limits of any fusion between communitarian leftists and right-populist-localist types here.

Russell Arben Fox said...

I think you're bumping up against the limits of any fusion between communitarian leftists and right-populist-localist types here.

I often wonder where those limits are, and whether I've pushed them too far or have a while yet to go to cross them. They exist, obviously. There's also the question of prudential and tactical alliances, and whether they can be taken further than attempted fusions of principle. Questions, questions....

Thanks for the warning though! I take it very much to heart.

beyond those of prin