29 June 2012

Obamacare and socialism and the needy.

Longtime readers already know my backstory: I’m a conservative, pro-life Democrat.

I grew up Republican, because my parents are Republican. I became a knee-jerk, uber-conservative Republican in my high school years, ’cause I got involved in the political Christian Right and my local Republican party. It began to alienate me in my mid-20s, as I started to get serious about what Jesus actually teaches, as I started to interact with more left-of-center Christians, and as I began to deal with the vast gap between the Kingdom of God and libertarian economics. After discovering I really had more in common with Democrats than Republicans—and after about five years of denial—I switched parties in 2005.

No, I don’t agree with the Democrats about abortion—it exploits women, not empowers them. No, I don’t believe tolerance is more important than morality. No, I don’t believe in big government, but in functional government—in a government that does its job, wastes no money, and helps Americans out rather than wiping the behinds of the poor—or the rich. And no, I don’t believe politics and government are the solution to all our problems: Christ Jesus is. So those beliefs put me on the conservative end of the Democratic party. But let me tell you, it’s a lot more comfortable there than being on the liberal end of the Republican party. (’Cause Democrats are tolerant. Well, most of them.)

Does that make me a socialist? Yeah, okay. Socialism, contrary to what my conservative friends insist, is not communism, nor fascism, nor totalitarianism. It’s not a nanny-state womb-to-tomb Big Brother who won’t let you do anything unless it pre-approves. It’s a safety net. Yeah, opportunists will treat it as a hammock: They’re doing so right now. Any system can be worked when you’re a smart enough con artist, or when the worker drones in the system simply don’t care. But let’s get logical for a moment: My conservative friends fear an oppressive government… that the lazy can easily scam. It’s like a bully that can beat the tar out of you, but somehow or other you always manage to steal his lunch money. It’s the world’s dumbest boogeyman. This is what they’re afraid of. Yeesh.

Government does not exist to fund the cops and military, and otherwise leave us alone. As the Constitution itself says, it’s there to establish justice. My conservative friends think justice only consists of prosecuting murderers and terrorists. Obviously they know nothing of the biblical definition. They don’t want to know any other. They’re happier with thinking of it as, when you get right down to it, legally sanctioned vengeance.

So the idea of fixing healthcare, to them, isn’t justice, and has nothing to do with justice. It is the government takeover of a private business. It is government interference with our private lives and medical choices. It is (from my mom’s description of what her greatly uninformed co-workers have been saying) the idea that the government will now require Catholic hospitals to perform abortions and give out contraceptives. (These co-workers, I should add, also think Barack Obama is a Muslim from Kenya.)

No, healthcare isn’t a right. It’s a charity. Starting with Jesus: A significant portion of his ministry consisted of healing the sick. (We Pentecostals believe it still does.) Healing the sick is helping the needy, just as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, putting out a fire, visiting the prisoner: It’s charity.

Or it was until about 50 years ago, when people realized there was money to be made in selling health insurance to cover the bigger medical expenses. So the medical bills grew, as people figured “Insurance will cover it,” and sought to make bigger and bigger profits off the insurers. Now, insurance is the only thing that’ll cover it—and the needy can’t get charity because healthcare is now a business. A fifth of our economy now consists of profiteering off the sick and dying.

This is evil. This is unjust. This is refusing to take away suffering unless someone pays money. For the sake of justice, someone should step in and fix things. But government doesn’t have the nerve—and when it does, conservatives balk: “Socialism! They’re interfering with private business! How dare they? They’ll just ruin it.” And they point to how, thanks to government interference, the slave trade and human trafficking has just been ruined, and how expensive cocaine has become, and how hard it is to find a good prostitute nowadays…

Oh, wait, they don’t do that. Because they realize those things are immoral and wrong. Well, now they do; those things used to be legal in the United States, you know. Big healthy businesses, too. But ultimately evil, based on the perpetuation of human suffering. They don’t recognize for-profit healthcare as evil—that it’s the moral equivalent of letting a man’s house burn down because he won’t or can’t give the firefighters $1,000 apiece for turning their hoses on it, or letting a woman drown because she won’t pay the lifeguard up front for her rescue. They’ve become acclimated to the idea that you should pay the extortion fee; that everybody does it; that it’s capitalism, and it’s right. And, right now, they can afford it. Wait till they’re dying. Wait till they can’t.

So the Supreme Court ruled, Wednesday, that the government can indeed obligate people to get health insurance. My conservative friends are in a tizzy about this, and are comparing it to the Soviets marching into East Germany. The ironic thing is that this comparison comes from people who would likewise prefer our undesirables were either forced to work for a few dollars a day, or incarcerated. But it’s hardly Marxism when you can still pick your insurer, you can still pick your hospital, you can still pick your doctor—you still have all the choices that, say, someone with taxpayer-funded school vouchers for their children would have. Yet they want the school vouchers—even though government, not them directly, will be funding them. Go figure.

So does this mean I like Obamacare? Nah. It’s still got a lot of flaws. Healthcare should be clamped down like alcohol, tobacco, and firearms: Those companies should get away with nothing. The laws should favor the patient so completely, so extremely, that nobody should want to get into the business unless they truly want to save lives and help people. Every hospital and insurer should automatically become not-for-profit, and have to abide by all the requirements that come with that status. No stock trading, no shareholders, no dividends, limited bonuses, capped (though comfortable) salaries, every spare dollar poured into R&D and charity cases. Price controls on equipment and drugs and procedures and insurance. Everything arranged so that doctors aren’t penalized for trying to save lives, and people aren’t penalized for trying to get their lives saved. That’s just.

As it is, Obamacare only allows a few more people access to a very flawed system. It’s a start, but it’s not enough. It’s that first step of a thousand-mile journey. There are still a million steps to be made.