Conservatives Lose on Health Care Mandate
The recent Obama mandate for universal birth control gave the Republicans an opportunity to fight for individual liberty -- and they missed it by a mile. Instead of attacking government-imposed health care as a violation of liberty, they only selected a minute fraction of the leviathan and subjected it to very narrow criteria. This was an opportunity to aim for the heart of ObamaCare, but critics asked for only a minor adjustment -- and that's all they got.
Government-mandated health care violates individual rights. The objection of Catholics to the funding of contraceptives is just one example of forcing people to fund and purchase the government health plan. Catholics aren't the only ones who have rights. Everyone -- including atheists -- has rights. Any basis or no basis at all is legitimate to opt out of funding and accepting a government program. There is no reason why an employer, or better yet, an employee can't contract for the exact health insurance that fits his or her needs.
The recent uproar by conservatives gives the impression that only the religious have rights. How about the rest of us? What if an agnostic objects to elements of government laws on principle or, perhaps, merely on a prudential basis? There was an opportunity to put the whole government-run health care system in the crosshairs. A passionate defense of individual rights could have and should have been the emphasis. But this wasn't important to conservatives. What did they do instead?
Conrad Black, writing in National Review, sees a "culture war" resulting in the "public oppression and humiliation" of the Catholic Church. Artur Davis agrees; this issue brings the "culture war" back, giving Rick Santorum an edge. Others see the issue only as a narrow question of religious freedom. Ramesh Ponnuru, Scott Brown, Chris Matthews, and E.J.Dionne, Jr. show that the objections to the original mandate span the political spectrum as an infringement on religious freedom and nothing more.
Fortunately, Jonah Goldberg gets it right. It is a broader question of liberty. However, he incorrectly believes that Santorum, who at times inserts an occasional reference to liberty, is focused on the issue of individual rights. He isn't. He is fighting contraception, sexual promiscuity, and a host of other matters that shouldn't be part of a campaign for a government office. There's a reason why his campaign motto is "faith, family, and freedom." The first two are personal matters. Liberty is the issue. It is obviously last on his list.
None of the critics points to a simple alternative. Why not let both employers and employees have a line-item veto to insurance previsions they don't want? The cost savings could be passed onto the employees as salary -- after all, benefits are properly part of the employee's compensation. Don't want prenatal insurance? Cross it out! Don't want insurance for alcoholism? Gone! Psychotherapy not your thing? No problem! Get the health insurance you want and pocket the savings. No one is force to act against his best judgment or conscience.
This proposal would have pushed the issue onto the large stage. The religious objection should have been a springboard to freedom of choice in general. It could have been exploited as an extreme example of a general disregard of the rights and liberties of each and every one of us. But leaving it narrowly as a Catholic or religious objection allowed Obama an easy out. Obama quickly backed off, leaving the conservatives looking like they are fighting not for freedom but only against birth control.
Obama, of course, wants conservatives distracted by social issues. During the 2010 election, the Tea Party purposely focused on economic liberty and sound fiscal policy. People in the Tea Party movement agreed to put the social issues on the shelf and address the pressing problem of government's strangulation of the economy -- started by the Bush bailouts and continued by Obama's massive expansion of the state. The result of the Tea Party campaign: big gains for the Republicans.
Conservatives are now playing right into Obama's hands. The "culture wars" are a distraction when brought into the political area. Our culture isn't going to be dictated by the government. Conservative social engineering isn't the answer to progressive social engineering. Why, then, bring up these issues in an election campaign? It is a distraction from the real issues: individual liberty, sound economic policy, and a strong defense.
If Santorum takes the bait, the whole campaign is lost. Whether he gets the nomination or not, he is going to be a major speaker at the Republican Convention. There is a risk of a replay of 1992, when the convention turned into a social conservative revival led by Pat Buchanan. Passing references to social virtues are fine, but unless Republican can stay focused on the rights our founding fathers so eloquently expressed in the Declaration of Independence and unless they can articulate the free-market principles that created our great nation, we don't have a prayer.
Jason Pappas is retired and writes on cultural issues at his blog www.libertyandculture.blogspot.com.