As Republicans continue to pretend to want to repeal Obamacare, the Left is pulling out all of the stops trying to make them look like ogres who just want people to die.
One of the more restrained, yet insidious, attacks comes from Obamacare adviser Ezekiel Emanuel, the brother of former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Some will also remember Ezekiel Emanuel as the execrable man who argued several years ago that old people should die at 75 to avoid inconveniencing their families and society at large. So we’re not talking about the poster child for compassion here.
In a new piece, Emanuel claims that the ideological fight over health care reform is between those who value freedom of choice and those who value “freedom from fear”. You cannot really be free, he claims, if you are afraid of getting sick and not being able to afford medical care.
Giving people “freedom from fear” seems like a powerful ambition, and it’s easy to see why some would be persuaded by this point of view, but the whole concept is really the result of fuzzy, imprecise thinking. At best, it’s wordplay disguised as philosophy and certainly not something by which we should set public policy.
The Left’s idea of freedom has always been “freedom from” rather than “freedom to”, the distinction between so-called positive and negative rights. But the things the Left wants to be free from are generally subjective and come from within. Freedom from fear is something that sounds nice in theory, but fear is not an objective thing that can be eliminated. It is an emotional state that varies from individual to individual. What frightens one person will not faze someone else, and people can alter the level of fear they experience through conscious effort, life events, or even through changes of mood from hour to hour. How can you use public policy to be free from something that is ultimately a creation of your own mind?
This is similar to the Left’s conception of a right not to be offended, in that offense is a subjective emotional state. That emotion’s relationship to objective stimuli is far from linear or obvious. What offends one person will make another person laugh and make a third person think. You can’t eliminate offense for the same reason you can’t eliminate fear, because there’s no way to tell beforehand what will offend or frighten a particular individual.
In contrast to this subjectivism, the libertarian conception of rights is objective. You own your own body and therefore have the right to do what you want with it, as long as you don’t infringe on the same rights of others. Being forced to buy health insurance you don’t want is a clear violation of that right, and we can see this without having to guess at or estimate the emotions of everyone in America.
Of course, I would also dispute Emanuel’s premise that Obamacare, or any form of universal health care, will actually make people feel more safe or more secure in their own health. Indeed, all the evidence seems to indicate that Obamacare has made it more difficult and more expensive to actually see a doctor, as insurers withdraw from some key markets and raise premiums and deductibles to impractical levels in others.
The supporters of Obamacare continue to frame the issue as a choice between the abstract concept of freedom and access to quality health care for all. As long as the argument is put in these terms, the advocates of freedom will lose. Fortunately, it’s a false dichotomy, as government-run health care turns out to be as unhelpful for sick people as it is unwelcome to those who value choice and competition. The challenge is to be vigilant in combating the lies about “quality health care” “access.”
If Emanuel really wants Americans to be free from fear, he should start by addressing the fear that the government will continue to destroy the market for medical care until there’s nothing left.
Logan Albright is a researcher for Conservative Review and director of research for Free the People. You can follow him on Twitter @loganalbright73.