Part I: What it Is
Obamacare's enrollment fiasco has provided endless opportunities for pointless blather from the unwashed masses of the American "right." Talkshow celebrities and the delicate young men who blog for magazine websites cannot contain their outrage. One of them yesterday, the editor of an actual print magazine of moderately large circulation, trumpeted his revelations to the world. The President has lied to us! The more prudent John Boehner, who unlike the pundits and columnists, has a job involving political responsibility, was content with suggesting merely that the President had misled us.
The great misleaders, alas, are the political leaders of both parties and their respective cheerleading squads. For the Democrats, Obamacare is the fulfillment of the American promise and the application of Christian brotherhood to the problems of healthcare. After all, Christ healed the sick, and if we are to live in imitation of Christ, surely a democratic society is entitled, nay obligated to provide healthcare to people who need but cannot afford it.
Indifferent to all questions of principle, the members of the mainstream right are content to cavil: It's too expensive, clumsy, inefficient. A glimmer of insight came from the Tea-Partiers, who denounced the plan as socialized medicine. In fact, they are right, but none of them appears to know enough about socialism to make any kind of judgment, and they seem to think that labeling a plan as socialist is enough to condemn it in these here United States. (As a side note, I know there are decent and intelligent people in the Tea Party movement, but if you took just one brief look at the bizarre leader they have up here in northern Illiinois, you would lose hope in any movement that would tolerate such a freak.
Before allowing themselves to get all het up over the details of Obamacare and its failed (so far) implementation, conservatives might spend a few moments trying to figure out what it is and then go on to decide whether or not they can attribute bad qualities to the "whatness" of the plan. If the principle behind Obamacare is basically good, they should confine their criticisms to questions of structure, methods, and personnel, but if the principle is basically bad, then they should spend less time howling about how long it takes to get online or how much it is going to cost a single male in his twenties and a bit more time on the essence. Obviously, I am not addressing my remarks to movement conservatives, who do not care about any such matters so long as they can wave the flag and keep taxes down, refusing to consider the effect that all their flags and yellow ribbons have had on the American deficit.
Like most Americans (including the President and members of Congress), I have made up my mind about Obamacare without actually reading the document(s). For me, there is basically one question to answer: Is Obamacare an exercise in state charity aimed at relieving the necessities of the poor, or is it a Marxist-inspired experiment in state socialism? Even though we have good reason to oppose both alternatives, we have to recognize them as different in motivation and in results.
Programs like food stamps and housing allowances, while certainly ill-run and deleterious in their effects, might be justified in principle as an exercise in collective charity. Yes, they would be better run by state and local governments, and yes, they have tended to empower bureaucrats rather than welfare recipients. (One obvious alternative to food stamps and the like is to hand out surplus food products, but the Republicans preferred a system of vouchers that were--I am not making this up--supposed to teach the poor how to handle money.)but, since feeding and housing the poor is a Christian obligation, our quarrel with these programs is one of "how" it is done rather than "if" it should be done.
If Obamacare were a program of state charity, it would be aimed exclusively at the bottom 20-30% of the population that cannot afford or at least does not have health insurance. Of course, such a program could work better through a system of charity clinics than through a government-managed insurance program that paid and empowered tens of thousands of middle-class bureaucrats, but, again, that is a question of how, not of if.
But it is the chief boast of the designers and defenders of Obamacare that it is a universal system that requires rich and poor, young and old, healthy and diseased to provide themselves without government-controled health insurance. This means, by definition, we are dealing with a Marxist transfer of power and responsibility from individuals and families and communities to (ultimately, though states play an intermediate role) the national government.
Now that this basic and essential question is settled, we can address the question of whether or not such a system is compatible with Christian morality. The text for part II will be Paul's Epistle to the Romans, primarily chapter 13, particularly the second half.
To be continued...
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.