It’s absolutely unsurprising that Jim DeMint, the former Republican senator from South Carolina, is rabidly anti-Obamacare. He’s the president of the Heritage Foundation, for crying out loud. What I find discouraging, however, is his reliance on the outdated and overused trope of socialism to justify his opposition.
DeMint’s recent comments on Obamacare were reported in Think Progress:
“I cannot think of anything that’s more un-American than national government-run health care,” DeMint said. “Those who believe in those principles of socialism and collectivism we’ve seen over the centuries, they see as their holy grail taking control of the health care system.”
I’m so tired of this old line. It seems like everyone who wants to rally against Big Government will invoke some mythical fight we’re still having against socialism, as if we still live in the 1950s and the biggest evil anyone can think of is Soviet Union. I guess that, even though it’s 2013 and the Soviet Union is no more, nothing scares the pants off a dyed in the wool conservative like the ghost of a planned economy.
Even disregarding the fact that it’s an obvious tool to keep us wedged in an us-vs-them mentality, I just need to ask why. Why is it un-American to band together and take care of people who have been hit by hard times or who haven’t had the same opportunities as other people? When did America turn from being a place of hope to a country that leaves the have-nots out in the cold?
The conservative conversation around Obamacare seems to be a fear of government intrusion into our private decisions. I’m not unfamiliar with that fear. I mean, I do have a functioning uterus.
There are two problems with this line of reasoning, though. The first problem is that the fear isn’t very specific. We live in a country that is founded on the belief that individuals should be able to follow their own paths to happiness. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves. That makes a threat to our freedom–whatever that means–a threat to our ability to do what we want, when we want. If you’re a functioning adult in society, you probably have never enjoyed this kind of freedom. It’s an existential threat. It’s like splitting the atom. When you’re done, not only do you not have the atom you started with, but you also have a giant, smoking crater.
The second problem is related. Because this is such an ill-defined fear, its meaning is highly dependent on the individual. When faced with an existential threat, it’s completely understandable that you’d imagine the worst possible outcome. However, just because that might be your first instinct doesn’t mean it’s how you need to make decisions.
I think that this ambiguity is purposeful. It plays off our worst collective fear, that the thing that defines us is being taken away. The assumption that any and all government rule is unacceptable ignores the fact that, for a lot of people, the type of freedom DeMint and his ilk want to preserve doesn’t exist. That freedom comes in the form of money.
Since we’re talking about Obamacare, let me use health care expenses as an example. A 2009 study found that, in 2007, 62 percent of personal bankruptcies were related to medical bills, and, perhaps most troubling, 60 percent actually had private health insurance. A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation has shown exactly how much less people will be paying for insurance coverage, and it’s nothing to sneeze at. However, a recent study showed that living in poverty impairs your cognitive abilities, which illustrates that stress about money could lead to poor decision-making. While we often think of the poor as being poor because of their decisions, the picture might be much more complicated than that.
It would be great if everyone was financially secure. Having enough money gives you the freedom to do so much. You can quit that job you hate. You could throw yourself into a hobby that fulfills you but isn’t necessarily financially lucrative.
Most people, however, don’t even have that option. Without help, it can be hard for people to keep their heads above water. What freedom is DeMint trying to protect for them? Maybe a more robust social safety net–aka the Scary Nanny State–would result in more freedom for the average American, not less.
People like DeMint seem to have a fear that, if we use collective action to make life better and more secure for people, that we will fall down the rabbit hole to gulags and bread lines. They fear that any government action is bad action. This doesn’t have to be the case. All we have to do is look across the pond to see how a more socialist government would work. Is it perfect? Of course not. Are there lessons to be learned? If we can finally get over our outdated fear of socialism, I think that there probably are.
Freedom – of the press, of self-determination, of religion, etc. – is something that should be encouraged. However, socialism isn’t kryptonite. According to Freedom House, an independent democracy freedom watchdog, the United States has an incredibly high freedom rating. But so do the United Kingdom, Iceland and Sweden. They all also have universal health care, yet none are Orwellian hellscapes.
I refuse to believe that it’s un-American to want to work together to make life better for everyone. I refuse to believe that just labeling something as socialist automatically makes it scary and evil. We’re better than that.
Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue
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