Friday, October 10, 2008

Just For Some Political Balance…

This is why I don’t think I’m ever going to be a really gold-star liberal. I sorta kinda agree a little bit with this article in the National Review.

I know, the National freakin’ Review, bastion of hard-right-wingers everywhere. Don’t ask how I got to the link, I read way too much political stuff, and I’m not sure it’s entirely good for me. I was ranting about the general idiocy of Lou Dobbs to a friend yesterday. He stared at me thoughtfully and said, “You should really not be allowed to watch TV or read the newspapers until after the election.” I think he feared for my blood pressure or something.

(Hah, like you could keep me from reading. Good luck with that. So, anyway, I somehow clicked through some link or other and wound up reading the article. This post will make no sense to you unless you do, too, but the article is pretty short, so you can click over there and then come back.)

It’s about health care, and the question author Bill Whittle poses is: is health care a right? He’s springboarding off the answer Obama gave in the last debate – which was “Yes.” Mr. Whittle, you will not be astonished to learn, disagrees.

Now understand, I have not spent any more time studying the problem of health care than the average healthy person. That means: not much. But it’s true that when people say “health care is a right”, I think to myself, really?

I mean, a right. Seriously? I don’t understand that. I can see, as any reasonable person can, that everyone having all the health care they need is by far the most desirable state of affairs, and that it’s a worthy goal for us to strive for as compassionate human beings. I can understand the idea that we should all make some contribution to the world and be kind to people who are less fortunate than ourselves. I have no argument with that.

But a right? I think of rights as pretty basic things: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the right to free speech and free association – those are examples of rights, in my mind. I don’t know if having health care, as needful as it is, is in that category to me. I generally dislike “slippery slope” arguments, because they don’t really address the issue. But Whittle’s extension of the idea to food and shelter has a certain punch: you will die without food, so why is food not “a right”?

Of course, many people would say that being fed and housed is a right. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to want to care for other people, and to work towards that goal, I’m simply saying I don’t understand how those things are rights. Those types of statements feel to me like they’re watering down the idea of what a right really is. When I think of rights, I think of things that I have, inside me, which should not be taken away from me by any outside force. They are things that are integral to me being a human being. I don’t inherently have health care, or food or shelter. I must create some situation in which I get them. Or someone else must create it. But it doesn't just happen.

It may well be that I just have a blind spot about this. I’ve almost never been legally employed by anyone, and I have definitely never been employed anywhere that had health care benefits. Thus, I’ve always had to provide my own health care insurance. That’s just…what you do, in my head. In fact, I’ve never even entertained the idea of getting any form of government assistance, like unemployment, welfare, food stamps, student loans/grants, or anything like that. I don’t think those programs are bad, I just haven’t participated in them. The whole concept of anyone else being involved in providing my health care is foreign to me. I suppose when I’m old I’ll make use of Medicare, if it’s still there. And if I try, I can certainly construct a scenario in my head – an extremely unpleasant one- which would end with me applying for government aid. So I'm not saying "oh, I'm too good for that, I'd never do it."

I can see that there’s some disconnect between my ideas that “It’s okay that taxes fund some food/shelter/medical care for people who need it” and “But it’s not a right”. If it’s not a right, then why is it acceptable for the government to pay for it? I don’t know. That’s a gap in my reasoning that I can’t explain. But my point is not that the government shouldn’t help people. It’s just that the idea of my having a right to some external thing I didn’t work for/pay for is puzzling to me. Unlike the author, I’m not unwilling to be persuaded to another point of view. If someone makes a clear and cogent argument to me about how health care really qualifies as a right, then I’ll change my mind. I haven’t heard that yet, though.

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