A Different View of Paternalism
The word "paternalism" has been bandied about concerning the various pathetic defenses of Barack Obama's now infamous claim that "If you like your health care, you can keep it. Period."
Well, yes, you can actually keep the health care you had before Obamacare was crammed through Congress. The caveat that was always unstated by the president, by any and all Democrats in Congress or the administration and by the mainstream media was that you could keep it if, and only if, it complied with every aspect of the new (Orwellian) Affordable Care Act.
Certain people who might generally be viewed as conservative have noted with mild horror that this is governmental paternalism.
Betsy McCaughey, in her article published at Accuracy in Media's website, says:
Obama's pledge never matched up to the actual law. The law epitomizes "Washington knows best" paternalism. Everyone must have the one-size-fits-all health plan designed by "experts."
Paternalism is, in their view, clearly evidence that the government thinks that you are not capable, or intellectually competent, of making a rational evaluation of what is really necessary for your own well-being.
However, it should be noted that like cancer, there are stages to paternalism. A common dictionary definition of the term would be:
"...the system, principle, or practice of managing or governing individuals, businesses, nations, etc., in the manner of a father dealing benevolently and often intrusively with his children..."
If you actually are a parent, it is altogether understandable that you might instruct a small child that it would be inadvisable to go outside to play during a hurricane. Of course only a dyed-in-the-wool liberal would "advise" a five-year-old in that manner. Normal people would more like phrase it something like "Are you out of your mind?!" Let's call this Stage I paternalism.
As the child grows and matures, most parents begin to reduce the level of control that they exert over their children. Stage II paternalism begins about the time the kids become teenagers, those fun-filled years when they think they are adults, don't think they need supervision in any way, but would still like you to pay their phone bill, college tuition, and give them gas money when they borrow your car. Stage II paternalism generally involves raised voices, and reminders about who is actually paying the bills. It's a rather stressful period for all concerned, with conversations often limited to exchanges such as:
"Yes, you will!"
"No, I won't!"
All of us have lived through this stage, and some of us have uttered both sentences depending on how old we were at the time.
Stage III marks a shift from absolutism to persuasion by the parent in today's culture. At least in today's American culture. The adult might suggest that a certain college major might not be in the best economic interest of their offspring, no matter how exciting they see a major in pre-Columbian Mayan poetry. We might, perhaps, offer the suggestion that such a course of study would be fantastic as a minor, but they really should consider a major in, oh, say, Accounting, just to pay the bills. Just suggesting, mind you.
If the adult is actually funding the full cost of the college education, those are frequently rather strong suggestions, of course.
Stage IV paternalism is the use of threats against anyone over whom one might have any authority, and it is a behavior not limited to parents or guardians. Employers frequently use the threat of termination to modify behavior to suit their personal views of what they "think" is best for their employees. In point of fact, though, the usual motivation is what is best for their own egos. How many people are pressured in the workplace to contribute to a charity, such as United Way, even though they would prefer not to? How many have made donations to a particular political cause as a result of "suggestions" from management? The only thing that prevents employers from dismissing people who resist such suggestions is of course the threat of litigation. But the threat remains very clear and is a cause of a great deal of anxiety.
And finally there is what has to be considered the last, and most final, stage of paternalism -- Stage V. This ultimate expression of paternalism is most clearly exemplified by so-called "honor killings" in the Islamic world. Those in positions of authority will literally kill you should you resist their "guidance."
In terms of the ironically named Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, it appears that our government has settled somewhere between Stage IV and Stage V paternalism. If you resist their persuasive "suggestions" that you really should just ignore the health insurance that you have, and spend in many cases twice as much for something that you don't want, you will be punished. A penalty is punishment, not a tax, regardless of what the Chief Justice thinks. The longer you resist their suggestions, the more onerous the penalty becomes. You might ultimately be punished by being denied health care under any circumstances. No one knows for sure, since regulations on that subject have yet to be written.
In any event, when you get to Stage IV or Stage V paternalism, it should no longer be called paternalistic at all. It should more properly be called totalitarian, or perhaps dictatorial, tyrannical, or even authoritarian. But a word such as paternalistic is much too gentle a word to describe the behavior of the Washington elite who daily smack each American in the face with the accusation that we are, like children, utterly incompetent to manage our own affairs.
Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller, a two-tour Vietnam veteran and writes frequently about political idiocy, business and economic idiocy and American cultural idiocy. Jim also blogs at http://jimyardley.wordpress.com/, and can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org