By Robert Wallace
The only example of blatant hypocrisy I’ve seen in the healthcare debate so far is liberal politicians refusing to sign on to their own public option. It’s sort of like walking into an Apple Store and seeing all the store employees listening to Zunes and typing up emails on Dell and HP laptops. I guess being good enough for us everyday Americans doesn’t make it good enough for our civil servants.
But the hypocrisy accusation is a Democratic political reflex. Don’t have a better idea? Start shouting “hypocrite!” while you give yourself time to think of something better. Sort of like a political Twix, I guess.
So while liberal politicians spend the summer recess huddled behind locked doors trying to avoid their constituents by substituting minimally advertised teleconferences for town-halls it’s no surprise to see the old hypocrisy charge get thrown around.
The spin is so clumsy and lame that I have no doubt it’s just something to do while their PR consultants put in overtime with the focus groups to try and come up with a real strategy, but since it seems to be the only strategy they have at the moment it’s what I’m going to talk about. Here are the two variants of the hypocrisy story that I’ve seen so far:
1. Protesters are personally hypocritical because so many of them are on Medicare
2. Republican politicians are hypocritical because they aren’t supporting a bill to end Medicare
The first line of attack is epitomized in opinion pieces like this one from Darren Hutchinson at Salon where he derides older protesters as wanting “Big government for me, but not for you.” Here’s a thought that has apparently never occurred to progressive bloggers: maybe Medicare beneficiaries oppose an expansion of government-run healthcare because they have first-hand experience of what it’s like.
It would only be hypocritical of seniors to oppose a public option if they were taking Medicare benefits of their own free will, but what choice do many seniors have? Because healthcare is so closely tied to employment in this country it’s very hard for people who have retired to get healthcare coverage other than on Medicare. Incidentally – why is healthcare tied to employment? Oh yeah… government intervention via the tax code.
So just to recap: our brilliant government decides to set up a tax disparity for health insurance that basically guarantees retired people can’t get insurance, and then they come up with a government solution to the government problem. And now they want to do it again.
This seems pretty simple to me. Older Americans got pushed into Medicare, and now it’s their only option. It’s a lot better than no option, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good option. Now the government wants to take the program they all use, and make it bigger.
Imagine that you were considering whether or not to buy a product, and a large number of people who owned a similar product loudly proclaimed that it was a bad idea. Would it make sense to call them hypocrites? Or to take their opinions seriously?
Next we get to the charge the Republican politicians are the real hypocrites. This one was clever, because it allows Democrats to use the hypocrisy charge while not advertising the fact that they think the American people are essentially children to be alternately patronized and scolded. Doubtless ambitious young Democrat Rep. Anthony Weiner (NY, 9th District) was very pleased with himself when he put this one together and offered an amendment to the healthcare bill that would have eliminated Medicare. What a clever scheme!
When Republicans helped shoot down the grandstanding proposal it provided fodder for pieces like this one from ThinkProgress.org. After calling Medicare “well-loved” they went on to say that:
By not voting for Weiner’s amendment, conservatives are acknowledging that their supposedly substantive claims about health care reform are nothing more than crass political fear-mongering.
Because obviously if you don’t vote to yank the plug on a program you have no right to oppose a similar program, right? Here’s a fun, if unrealistic, analogy that exemplifies how messed up their logic is:
Imagine that there’s a patient in the hospital for some routine tests. A doctor decides that he needs to try out a new heart bypass machine. The patient strenuously objects, but they go ahead and open him up, remove his perfectly healthy heart, and put him on bypass anyway. The good news is that at least the machine works well, and it keeps him alive. (Guess that means it’s “well-loved”, right?)
After the surgery the doctor comes back and says, “If you were so against this idea in the first place, how would you like it if I yanked the power cord right now?” The patient yells, “Don’t do it!” The replies derisively “You are such a hypocrite.”
Here’s the point: once the government decides to take over a niche in the economy you can’t easily go back to the way things were before because they wipe out whatever market once existed in that niche. Before the government took over education private schools were within the grasp of almost all Americans, but since the advent of government-run schools only the wealthy can afford them. FedEx and UPS may compete for package delivery, but the USPS got started with door-to-door letter delivery and no one even tries to compete for that market.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes a government-run monopoly is necessary. The textbook example is national defense. We don’t have a bunch of competing private air forces, and that’s OK.
But it is bordering on sheer stupidity to close your eyes to the fact that once the government takes over an economic niche you can’t just stick the genie back in the bottle and pretend it never happened. There’s nothing hypocritical about refusing to pull the plug on Medicare while trying to prevent government from expanding its power. It’s sort of like the poor guy on the heart bypass machine fighting to keep the crazy doctor from taking out his lungs next. Of course he probably also wants off of the bypass machine, but not until they put his heart back in!
These charges of hypocrisy — against ordinary Americans standing up in the political process and Republican politicians voting responsibly — are so pathetically weak they really highlight the extent to which the liberal wing of the Democratic party has misjudged the mood of the American people. This country voted for Obama because of the myth he represented, not because his liberal pipe dream policies were ever remotely popular.
Having said that, I agree with Randy: now is when things get interesting. The fact that Obama got elected without popular support for his policies is a reason to have hope that Americans will stand for what is right, but it’s also a reason to fear the capacity of the political left and their allies in the MSM to con everyday Americans into betraying their own principles and self-interest on a massive scale.
Robert Wallace is classical liberal and a devout Mormon. He is currently studying economics in graduate school. He and his wife work as business analysis consultants, and they live as undercover conservatives with their two small children in a liberal bastion of a college town. He has been writing for America’s Right since December 2008.