Friday, February 26, 2010

Ryan At The Summit

Yesterday's health care "summit" was of course the big story. Anyone interested in a complete transcript of the proceedings can find a full compilation here by the Washington Post.

For now, I just wanted to highlight this segment by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, as well as an observation from, which illustrates both the strengths and weaknesses of the Republican approach to the debate.

First, Ryan's segment on costs (transcript and video):

I want to give Ryan credit for an excellent dissection of the financial problems with ObamaCare. The facts he presented should definitely be part of the debate.

And to his credit Ryan also stated, "We don't think the government should be in control of all of this. We want people to be in control. And that, at the end of the day, is the big difference."

But consider this excerpt from the HotAir discussion of Ryan's rebuttal of ObamaCare:
This has always been a core problem of Obama's health-care pitch: He [Obama] knows that the moral argument for the bill -- sure, it'll cost us dearly but it's worth it to insure the uninsured -- is a political loser so he resorts to preposterous assertions about how our giant new federal entitlement will actually save us money in the long run.
And this indirectly highlights the key weakness of the Republican approach.

The GOP needs to more explicitly challenge the moral argument for ObamaCare, rather than concentrating on secondary issues such as costs.

They need to make the argument that government-run "universal health care" is morally wrong and that free-market health care is morally right.

Americans are very moral people and they passionately want to "do the right thing". So if they accept the premise that it's supposedly right for the government to (somehow) make sure that everyone has guaranteed health care, but gosh this particular way just happens to be too expensive, then the statists will eventually win by proposing some plan that doesn't look too costly.

Whatever statist plan is eventually adopted will inevitably either cost more than originally promised or lead to rationing (or likely both). But sooner or later, Americans will buy into such a plan -- if they think that it is "the right thing to do".

But if Americans can be persuaded that government-guaranteed health is fundamentally wrong on moral grounds, then they'll reject all proposed variants regardless of the specific financial details.

With respect to moral and/or philosophical arguments, Republican sometimes say things that sound promising, such as Ryan's "We don't think the government should be in control of all of this. We want people to be in control."

But they never consistently defend the underlying principle of individual rights, the concept that individual rights are essential to human life in a social context, or the morality of a limited government which leaves honest men free to peacefully pursue their lives and their self-interest.

Hence, the Republicans leave themselves constantly vulnerable to statists claiming that there is a "moral imperative" to implement some new entitlement program, whether it be guaranteed health care, a jobs program, or a Medicare drug benefit. The most they can do is object to the costs of a particular program (or to some other specific implementation details) -- but not to the worthiness of the underlying goal.

In other words, the Republicans often argue that socialized medicine is impractical (or the closely related "it's too expensive"), but they rarely if ever argue that it's immoral.

As Leonard Peikoff noted in "Health Care Is Not A Right":
Most people who oppose socialized medicine do so on the grounds that it is moral and well-intentioned, but impractical; i.e., it is a noble idea -- which just somehow does not work. I do not agree that socialized medicine is moral and well-intentioned, but impractical.

Of course, it is impractical -- it does not work -- but I hold that it is impractical because it is immoral.

This is not a case of noble in theory but a failure in practice; it is a case of vicious in theory and therefore a disaster in practice. I want to focus on the moral issue at stake. So long as people believe that socialized medicine is a noble plan, there is no way to fight it.

You cannot stop a noble plan -- not if it really is noble. The only way you can defeat it is to unmask it -- to show that it is the very opposite of noble. Then at least you have a fighting chance.
Without this sort of moral clarity, economic arguments of the type Ryan is offering (as important as they are) will only delay the implementation of government-run medicine, not stop it.

To stop it, one needs to (1) not automatically concede the moral high ground to the statists (i.e., not grant the premise that guaranteed health care is a noble end), and (2) offer the proper moral defense of free market health reforms.

The debate is slowly shifting in this direction. But we still have a long ways to go.

To the extent that the Republicans are able to delay the implementation of ObamaCare, they will at least buy us more precious time to bring these core moral issues to the forefront.

We can't necessarily control how much time we are given, but we can control how we use it. Hence, we must be careful to use it wisely, rather than squander it.