What The Health Care Bill Is Really About (And No, You Aren’t A Libertarian) (51 of 90)


I’ve been a Libertarian for years.

There’s a host of reasons for that. The Appalachian heritage. The cyber-culture. My life experience.

Even still, I’ve never voted straight ticket. I don’t believe in that. I believe in looking for the candidate not that agrees with me (because times change, and I expect my politicians to change their minds along the way. Otherwise, why do we have schools?), but best exemplifies the way I think.

The Libertarian way of thinking appeals to me.

Now, though, conservatives have started using this term around in ways that are completely unrecognizable to me.

They are using it – I suspect – because the extremist portion of the party, the Theocracy, pushed their way closer to the mainstream. The deal struck with Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition, seemed like a good idea in the late 1980s. Now, though, we’ve seen the complete radicalization of the Right.

The conservative principles have been hijacked, wrapped around God and Morality, and served up as a Theocratic Party.

So the conservatives have been forced to scramble to find a place to re-take their party. The libertarian philosophy seemed most accessible. So the mainstream conservatives, the people who believed in limited government, fiscal responsibility, strong defense, have started co-opting the libertarian ideal instead of fighting for control of their own party.

They have bastardized it. Make it about free markets and corporations. About divine providence and control of the will. In short, they are trying to turn libertarianism into traditional conservatism.

Because nobody wants to take on god. Not in the Republican Party.

Which creates a framing problem. One we’ve seen play out in this national “debate” over health care:

  • The Theocratic Party has re-framed the health care debate as a moral and philosophical shift of the government (into the godless Socialist and Communist regime);
  • the Conservative Libertarian Party has re-framed the health care debate as a shift from the free market; and
  • the Democrats have not really framed this discussion well at all, instead responding to the attacks instead of articulating their solution.

This is a problem for everyone.


This is a post about health care, though. Not god. Or Republicans. Or the Theocratic Party.

Because Sunday the U.S. Congress is going to – historically speaking – vote on a measure that would on  require all Americans to have health care. The culmination of decades of work.

Of course, the measure may ultimately bankrupt the country as well. Already some economists believe we are slowly swirling down the tubes.

Either way, the country is about to take a major step.

In which direction is hard to tell. The issue is contentious to say the least (and that’s giving the Tea Baggers a generous pass because as much as I disdain them, we can’t paint everyone with a broad brush because of a few jackasses).

What makes the bill so frighteningly divisive is that it does two things at one time:

  1. expands the mandate of the federal government
  2. tells every person in this country that their life is not a commodity that corporations can bargain

There has always been a tension between our desire to hold back the reach of the federal government with the understanding that the Social Contract means we must sometimes agree to a common good.

But these fights are never easy.

It was a near holy war when the Conservative Icon Ronald Reagan pushed through federal legislation that forced states to adhere to the 21-year-old drinking age limit or face the loss of federal highway funds, a bill originally authored by Rep. Jim Robb (R-Grand Junction).

If the political parties and corporations nearly ripped themselves apart over the drinking age, it stands to reason health care would turn bloody.


The problem, as best as I can understand it, stems from this scenario: we’re currently paying for everyone’s health care (because nobody is turned away), hospitals eat the cost, then pass that along to the insurance industry, which then passes it along to citizens.

The lack of oversight in this matter has helped the entire process spin out of control.

Insured Americans then foot the bill for the uninsured Americans through higher premiums paid to insurance companies, which are forced to pay for more expensive tests and procedures because hospitals must build in that cost-loss to stay in business.

The question for this Health Care Bill should then become: how do we provide coverage for everyone while removing the most barriers to every day living, and do so in the most fiscally responsible way that does not create new economic burdens down the line?


So back to god.

Thirty years ago, this debate would not have been over Communism and Socialism. (Remember, Reagan rammed through the Republican-backed expansion of the federal government, dictating what states would do, using federal money as a threat.)

We are not then, though. We are now.

And this question we face is a serious one. One that deserves serious debate.

Not one settled by childish name calling or weak-kneed scare tactics.

But we are not having the debate that we should have. We are not discussing what the role of the federal government should be. Which, for a Libertarian, is very simple.

Libertarianism demands that the individual have the most freedom to act in life.

Many times this means the removal of federal and state authority (within reason, which of course is where the rubber meets the road), an idea the Conservative Libertarians have pounced upon as a complete removal of all systems of regulation.

That is not, however, what is means.

For instance: the U.S. government created monopolies with public utilities. The reason:  the cost and expanse of the infrastructure is too great to replicate, so the government grants a monopoly in exchange for strict federal controls.

Why? So each of us doesn’t have to create our own energy or fill our own water tank. It serves the interest of the individual, in other words, to have regulation.

This is, in the words of the Theocratic Party, the road to Communism and Socialism; to a Conservative Libertarian this is an intrusion upon the free market.

Libertarians, though, understand the philosophy not as a dogmatic theocratic or business philosophy, but a broad political philosophy with nuance.


And this is the debate that we didn’t have with the Health Care Bill.

Or if we had it, I missed it. Lost in the din of Tea Baggers screaming, the Theocratic Party scaring, the Conservative Libertarians free marketing and the Democrats looking around trying to figure out who to respond to.

The fundamental debate should be whether we – as a country — believe health care is more like a Public Utility, something that requires such a complex infrastructure that it’s too unwieldy to build multiple times so we grant it a limited monopoly in exchange for universal coverage.


I believe health care IS a public utility, which then frames the debate in a very specific way.

However, I am open to the idea that it is not. I am open to the debate that there is another existing structure in America that would better serve the ultimate purpose that I laid out with the question.

I wish that was what the Health Care Bill was about.

But it’s not.

Sunday is the culmination of a very broken process.

It is less about the debate and the question – figuring out the soul of the country and the role of our government — and more about the soul of the American political system.

No matter the result, the vitriolic fundamentalism that has reared its head in this country during the national conversation most assuredly won’t subside. Not on its own.

We have co-opted our own system for selfish concerns. We are a country of individuals who appear more concerned about BEING right than GETTING IT right. We have morphed and changed and bent truths to become the idea or the thought or the argument that we wanted. We have undermined truth in knowledge and replaced it with fear.

And even if we get this bill right, it’s now only a matter of time before we get something very, very wrong.

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This newsletter is the outgrowth of The Downtown Writers Jam podcast. What that means is I will collect information about the authors I interview, book happenings around the Web, and other literary events that I find interesting. Without you, I'm just a crazy guy sitting in his office furiously screaming on the page for no reason.
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