Judging from conservative rhetoric, the debate over health-care reform is in truth a fight over the future of American democracy and capitalism. Stopping the health-care bill is being described as an essential step toward restoring America to its rightful owners and rightful course.
“Friends, this is a critical battle for the heart and soul of America, and for freedom itself,” Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina told a rally in Washington over the weekend. “Freedom fighters are outnumbered in Congress, but not in America. If you continue to stand up and speak out, we will save freedom in America.”
Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, made a more personal contribution to the hysteria. Health care reform would not merely threaten the foundations of America, she warned, it would lead to government-mandated abandonment of our loved ones and family.
“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’whether they are worthy of health care,” Palin wrote on her Facebook page. “Such a system is downright evil.”
While that’s some pretty impressive demagoguery, Palin, DeMint and others are mere pikers compared to the master of the genre. To appreciate true genius in explaining how government health care will destroy all that is good and Godly about this country, you can’t do better than the Great Communicator himself, Ronald Reagan.
In a recording back in 1961, Reagan patiently explained, step by step, how the then-controversial proposal to create Medicare would lead to an America in which freedom was a distant memory. In post-Medicare America, government would dictate to its citizens where they would be allowed to live, what they would be allowed to study and what career they could pursue.
It’s a great case study in how elusive the line between reality and fantasy can be, particularly in the hands of a master illusionist.
Reagan begins by noting that under Medicare, the federal government would pay doctors for the care they provide. From that single data point, he weaves a portrait of America that none of us would recognize.
“First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients — (the patients are) equally divided among the various doctors by the government,” Reagan says in a perfectly reasonable sounding conjecture. “But then the doctors aren’t evenly divided geographically, so a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town, and the government has to say to him, ‘You can’t live in that town, they already have enough doctors, you have to go someplace else,’ and from there it is only a short step to dictating where he will go.”
Note the graceful transition as one “what if” glides effortlessly into the next, and then the next, until suddenly the listener finds himself led into a crazy country in which federal bureaucrats dictate where doctors can live and work. As the Gipper notes, “this is a freedom that I wonder if any of us have the right to take from another human being.” (The effect is even more convincing if you listen to Reagan’s words rather than read them.)
To hear Reagan tell it, they won’t stop there. Once government starts dictating to doctors where they can live and practice, it will do the same for all Americans, in all lines of work.
“Pretty soon, your son won’t decide when he’s in school where he will go or what he will do for a living,” Reagan warns. “He will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work, and what he will do.” Once Medicare becomes law, Reagan concludes, Americans will “spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America, when men were free.”
Today, almost half a century later, we know how things turned out. Medicare did become law, as Reagan feared, but the rest of his horror story never came to pass. Government is not dictating where we can live or what we can study or what career we can enter. We remain a free people, in many ways far more free than we were in 1961. And Medicare is now so popular that even as Republican leaders rail about the dangers of “socialized medicine,” they make sure to exempt Medicare from that criticism.
In other words, conjecture is a land of many possibilities. There was nothing in the original Medicare bill that would have let government dictate where physicians could live and work, just as there’s nothing in the current reform bill that will create “death panels” or a government takeover of health care or subsidize health insurance for illegal immigrants. But words like “could” and “might” let you claim almost anything.