Yet another danger: health care

Here we go again. First it was empathy that the Angry Ones were all in a lather about, and specif


Here we go again. First it was empathy that the Angry Ones were all in a lather about, and specifically the prospect that a Supreme Court justice might feel such a thing, and now it’s health care, and specifically the prospect that the government might provide more of it.

You would think our government was contemplating something truly horrible, like concentration camps, or the gassing of the unemployed, or the repeal of the Bill of Rights, but no, the government is contemplating getting involved with trying to keep people healthy!

People are in a rage over this, to the extent that they are storming town hall meetings and shouting and shoving to shut them down.

Their pipers are piping them on: “Be part of the mob!” urges Sean Hannity on his Web site.

“Pack the hall,” urges Tea Party Patriots.

To all of which a normal, civilized person might ask, Huh?

But it makes a kind of sense, if you think about it, and is very much in line with the disdain for empathy.

In this case the Angry Ones purport to object to big government, not to health care itself, of course. You can hear their position enunciated in the statements of persons and groups that speak for them, persons like Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and groups like FreedomWorks, and Tea Party Patriots and Fox News, which I always call Fox Propaganda.

Government is bad, is what it boils down to, while private enterprise is good. A moment’s reflection, alas, shows the position is something less than sincere.

The Angry Ones — almost all of whom identify themselves as conservative — do not really dislike government. In fact, as I have pointed out before, they love government — big, intrusive government — when it is making war, when it is torturing prisoners, when it is eavesdropping on telephone conversations, even when it is taking children away from their parents, (as long as those parents are poor), and even when it is tricking people into committing crimes that they can then be arrested for, as the FBI did in Albany. Activities that are the most intrusive you can imagine and incidentally the most expensive (like the war in Iraq, some $800 billion so far, and still counting).

In those cases they are flag-waving cheerleaders for government, and they tolerate no dissent.

While railing against President Obama’s health-care plan the other day, Rush Limbaugh said, “We know the government doesn’t accomplish what it says and lies about it,” which is pretty standard anti-government fare.

We are expected not to notice that when the same government wasn’t accomplishing what it said in Iraq and was lying about it, Limbaugh was an enthusiastic supporter of the effort and so were all the other self-identified conservatives. (I don’t see anything conservative about such hyprocrisy myself, which is why I qualify the label.)

So let’s conclude quickly that the stated hatred of big government is bogus. But if all these belligerent people do not really hate big government, what do they hate? Why are they in such a sputtering rage about government pitching in on health care?

In my humble view, ladies and gentlemen, what they really disdain is compassion for other people, and they hate government only when government acts compassionately.

Think about it. They don’t object to the FBI or the CIA, ever, but they do object to the Department of Education, which as recently as 1996 the Republican Party promised to abolish, just as President Reagan promised in his first State of the Union address to abolish it, and they regularly mock the work of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency.

It’s when government tries to be kind, merciful and socially ameliorative that they sneer, scoff and storm town halls.

If government is nasty and brutal (to other people, that is), they like it, no matter how much it costs. Remember, the war in Iraq for a while was costing $280 million a day in direct appropriations, never mind long-term costs, and self-identified anti-government, anti-tax conservatives whooped and cheered for it.

When they have a conniption about taxes, which they regularly do, the understanding is that government should spend less on humane programs, never less on brutal ones. The government could spend all it wants on rounding up illegal immigrants and deporting them, for example, and you can be sure that Fox Propaganda would have nothing but praise for the effort.

And of course government can spend as much as it wants subsidizing business, too. That goes without saying.

“Big government” actually is code, just as “bureaucrat” is also code.

“We don’t want to put bureaucrats between a doctor and a patient,” said Rep. Tom Price, Republican of Georgia, repeating a standard line as he declaimed against “government intrusion” in health care.

But having an insurance company executive between a doctor and a patient is quite all right and not to be mentioned, because that’s private enterprise and private enterprise is sacrosanct. The insurance company executive, making perhaps $24 million a year out of our premiums, like Ron Williams of Aetna, with the power to decide what treatments get approved and what don’t, does not qualify as a bureaucrat. He’s like a holy man, almost.

And why is private enterprise sacrosanct? Because it is fundamentally selfish, is the only reason I can think of, and the Angry Ones, self-described conservatives, approve of selfishness. They regard it as a virtue, though they never come right out and say so but prefer to speak in code.

It’s empathy they despise, and compassion. That’s why they have a fit over something so seemingly benign as government-supported health care.

It’s certainly not because our patchwork health care system, which leaves 45 million people uninsured, is so wonderful and the government-backed health-care systems of other countries are so terrible. As the World Health Organization famously found in 2000, we spend a higher portion of our gross domestic product on health care than any other country in the world and yet rank just 37th in health results, behind most European countries and also behind Costa Rica and Morocco.

They don’t want to contribute to the common weal on principle.

Think about it, and correct me if I’m wrong.

Categories: Opinion

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