Progressivism

Jerry Brown slurs Whitman -- earns NOW's endorsement

The timing couldn't be more profound: just one day after California gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown is caught on tape as a campaign aide calls Meg Whitman a "whore", the National Organization for Women announces -- you guessed it -- that it is supporting Jerry Brown for Governor. Proving that liberal orthodoxy trumps gender every time, NOW not only is endorsing a man over a woman in California, but it is apparently not concerned with Brown's acceptance of sexist, demeaning language being used against his opponent. In NOW's view, Whitman -- who is pro-life -- apparently doesn't warrant the kind of protection from mysogynist attacks that the group's charter is supposed to provide all women. But as it has proven time and time again, female conservatives are the wrong kind of women. Not that NOW can't be enraged by a politician's words -- just not those of Democrat politicians. Posted prominently on the NOW website, the group is vehemently denouncing Senator Jim DeMint's "dangerous comments" on gays and sexually active single women "being unfit to teach". According to NOW, DeMint's comments to a "conservative church group" make him a "sexist bigot" who is "ignorant, homophobic" and unfit to serve in the U.S. Congress. DeMint actually made these comments six years ago, and was only recently reflecting on the impact they had in the media in a speech he gave last week to the Greater Freedom Rally in Spartanburg, South Carolina. And he actually said that "gays and unmarried pregnant women" should not be public school teachers -- a statement that NOW extrapolated to mean "sexually active single women" -- as if every sexually active single woman gets pregnant. Leaving aside the wisdom of DeMint's views on these issues, is putting forward a value statement on public education really worse than calling a woman a "whore"?

For NOW -- which has never met a conservative woman it can support, a man who uses a sexist slur is still better than a self-made woman who embodies the very feminist values of hard work and female mobility that the group is supposed to stand for.

Shameful.

Is health reform a matter of justice?

(Author: Robert F. Sasseen) Is affordable healthcare for all a question of individual rights, or a requirement of the common good? The public debate in the US seems to assume that it is both. It is not my purpose here to examine what reforms are necessary or wise, but to identify some of the issues of justice implicit in the debate Is There a Natural and Individual Right to Health Care?

Most believe that the US healthcare system needs reform. Why? Because it has become too expensive and too many are left out. All seem to agree on that. So the public debate is focused on how to fix the system, not whether it needs fixing. It is asserted that 46 million Americans do not have access to health care. Strictly speaking, that's not true. Millions of them could, but choose not to purchase health insurance. But let's not quibble over the word "access." In the USA, the door to health care is open to all in the sense that no law prohibits entry to anyone. It remains open even to those who choose for whatever reason not to enter. But isn't the door effectively closed to all who choose not to enter because they can't afford to pay the cost of the care available inside the door? Don't they have an individual and natural right to the care they need? If every individual is by nature entitled to affordable health care as a matter of individual right, then is it not the duty of government to make sure that health care is available to each and all? Indeed, this is the view of some who argue for a national healthcare system established, managed, and regulated by the Federal Government. They argue that it alone is big enough, powerful enough, and wealthy enough to provide affordable (and equal?) health care for everyone.

A question of justice arises with respect to things to which I am entitled by positive law, natural right, or divine command. If there is no entitlement , my lacking a good I desire (say, a room with a view) is not an injustice. Nor would it be just to tax another to pay for that room. But what of life's necessities? Am I not entitled to food, clothing, shelter, education, and healthcare? If so, doesn't justice require that another help provide them for me, at least if I am a child, or poor and destitute through no fault of my own?

Perhaps. But first, what is the ground of that entitlement? No question of an individual right arises if there is no entitlement to the good which is lacking? Some believe that my entitlement arises from my natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If I have a natural right to life, do I not also have a right to the things necessary to preserve my life and to achieve the happiness I naturally seek ? Is that not logical? Seems so. But how does my right become another's duty to help me?

Classical Liberalism (e.g., in Hobbes and Locke) struggled with that question, not quite successfully in my opinion. In that view, the duty of another to assist me arises from the transformation of my natural rights into civil rights through the "social contract" and the laws established by a legitimate government to maintain the "state of society." In the "state of nature," there are no natural duties arising from my natural right to seek the goods I need. My natural neediness is not the ground of another's duty to help me. My natural right to acquire the goods I want leads to the war of each against each. The goods we need are naturally scarce, there is no natural law, and no executive power capable of enforcing it if there were such a law. I am not naturally my brother's keeper. Thus life in that state of nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." The purpose of the "social contract," and consequently the duty of government, is to put an end to that war and to establish the conditions, (primarily law and order), which are necessary for the security, peace, progress, and prosperity of society as a whole.

St. Paul once admonished the Thessalonians that "if anyone will not work, let him not eat" [2 Th. 3.10]. Fathers once admonished their children that "the world doesn't owe you a living. Neither does your neighbor. It is your responsibility to provide for yourself and your family." That was a salutary teaching consistent with the harsh facts of life, the natural rights teaching of our Declaration of Independence, and the preservation of freedom and limited government in a democratic republic.

Is Affordable Health Care a Requirement of the Common Good?

What about all those who can't provide life's necessities for themselves? What about the "widow and the orphan," the poor, the handicapped, the disabled, the defeated, the downtrodden, the "marginalized," and all those who suffer "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune"? If they have no natural and individual right to health care, are they to be left to suffer and die?

Of course not! Compassion forbids it, as does Charity. But compassion is not a virtue, and charity is not the same thing as justice. The "Good Samaritan" aided that particular victim. He did not organize a political party to demand that government create a program to aid all victims everywhere. It is good for society to foster the development of compassion, charity, and the cardinal virtues in its members. But the question we are exploring is whether universal health care is a requirement of justice and therefore a duty of government to establish and to guarantee. Government may have that duty. But according to the originators of the modern natural rights doctrine, its foundation is not in the natural right of needy individuals to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. That duty, however, may be inherent in the nature of society and the purpose government."

Now we wish to consider whether the provision of affordable health care for all is a requirement of the common good.

Essential elements of the common good are succinctly stated in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States: Its purpose is "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, provide for the common defense, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." Health is a good thing. Sickness is a bad thing. We naturally seek the first and wish to avoid the second. Health care is necessary for both. My own health is my private good. A healthy population is a public good. An adequate system of health care open to all is a common good, part and parcel of the general welfare. It is therefore a proper function of government to promote its establishment and to govern it operation through appropriate laws.

It is necessary to make some distinctions here. The Preamble to the US Constitution does not grant the Federal Government a specific power to do anything. Its specific powers are enumerated in the body of the Constitution. Other powers (over education for example) belong to the nature of government in general, but are not included in that enumeration. They are reserved to the States or to the People (Article 10). This fact is relevant to the determination of the proper role of the Federal Government with respect to our healthcare system. It is also necessary to understand the distinction between the power to govern, to regulate, to manage, and to administer; as well as the difference between laws, rules, and regulations.

Few would deny that an adequate system of healthcare is part of the general welfare. Most would agree that it is legitimate for government to promote its development and to enact appropriate laws governing its operations. Some laws might be very controversial. For example, laws prohibiting discrimination against illegal aliens, deliberate killing, experimentation on humans, cloning, eugenic cleansing, abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, "mercy killing,"or doctor-assisted suicide. But few contest the right, or even the duty of government to pass laws of that nature--i.e., laws as distinguished from rules and regulations. It is a proper function of government to govern, but not necessarily to manage or administer the country's healthcare system.

It is conceivable that the common good may, in some circumstances, require the government itself to establish and manage a healthcare system, or to "nationalize" an essentially private one. Some believe that "socialized medicine" is the best way to go. But it is a question worth considering whether such a system is compatible with liberty, with the duty of government "to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." There are several essential elements in the common good. It is the duty of government to attend to them all and not to sacrifice one to another. That requires prudence and moderation in the government and in the people.

Who Benefits? Who decides?

Women and children first” shouted the captain of the sinking ship. “First treat the slightly wounded” ordered the field commander in desperate and immediate need of more soldiers. (Some military doctors wanted to treat the severely wounded first, to prevent their dying.) As to the availability of health care in general, some demand affirmative action for minorities and a “preferential option for the poor” in the name of justice and human dignity. They are many and needy. A few insist that priority should be given to those who most benefit society. Others hold that equal treatment is the proper principle. They differ whether equality means equal eligibility for each person, or proportionally equal financial support “to each according to his need.” Still others take a more pragmatic approach that others reject as inadequate and insensitive. “First, don't bankrupt the country. Second, don't take over the healthcare system or usurp powers not constitutionally authorized. Respect the proper role of state and local governments, as well as private, intermediary associations. Third, require all to purchase private health insurance open to all, and remove restrictions on the insurance industry that inhibit competition and restrict its territory. (Government should be insurer of last resort for the deserving poor.) Fourth, focus health care on the condition and futures of the different age groups. Provide health education and preventive care for all; remedial and curative care for children and adults who can be restored to useful life; only palliative care for the rest--particularly for seniors running out of gas. No extraordinary procedures or inordinately expensive measures for any person who can't pay for them.“

It is impossible to avoid rationing and setting priorities so long as health care is a scarce good and the demand is virtually without limit. Such issues are in substantial part questions of distributive justice. But who is to decide? Some of them are decided in the market place by what insurers and sellers of health care can afford to offer, and buyers can afford to purchase. Some are decided by government, in the subsidies or funding it provides and in the general laws and regulations it establishes for health care. Some are decided by the doctor and patient together. Many American's prefer that rationing decisions be made as close to home as possible--between the patient and his doctor.

It is characteristically human to “want something for nothing,“ ”to have our cake and eat it too,“ to have ”third-party payers“ for the goods we want. There is never enough money to do everything we desire. Choices must be made and priorities set, not only within the world of health care but between other elements of the common good. Universal healthcare may be very desirable, but self-defense and victory in war more imperative. Government must decide among competing goods and competing “values.” The struggle for power and deliberation about what is best are the very stuff of politics. We want the People to decide, and that is why we favor democracy. “Power to the People!“"

"Justice is the advantage of the stronger“ asserted the ancient Sophist. The law declares what is just and unjust. The winner of the struggle for power is by definition the stronger and makes the laws according to the “values“ of her class or his winning coalition. It is no surprise that too often those “values“ both rationalize and favor the interests of the winners in the struggle for power. Contemporary Liberalism offers no defense against such a cynical view of justice and politics. At bottom, that is its own view.

"Don't tax me. Don't tax thee. Tax that rich man behind the tree!” If there aren't enough of those, keep borrowing or printing the necessary money until the bubble bursts and the economy collapses, hopefully sometime in the distant future. “Do not suffer today what can be put off till tomorrow.“ That appears to be the natural way of democracy.

Conclusion.

Much is at stake in this healthcare debate. The dominant opinion of justice and what it requires of government is one of the main causes of its form and policies. The view that justice requires government to guarantee or provide universal and affordable health care is a particular instance of the Marxist principle of justice. ("From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.") The triumph of that view of justice could eventually bring in its wake the tyranny inherent in the Marxist principle, as our experience of Communism demonstrates.

"Best Keepers of the People's Liberties?"

James Madison, the father of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, asked, "Who are the Best Keepers of the People's Liberties?" in a 1792 article in the National Gazette, a Republican newspaper critical of the ruling Federalist party. The question is always relevant. For nearly a century, so-called "progressives" have insisted that they are entitled to public confidence for all they have done to improve people’s lives. Equality of condition has been the guiding principle of policies that curbed the powers of the business class, reined in the armed forces, provided social services, promoted world peace, redistributed income and protected minorities.

But if we take seriously Madison’s choice of terms, we can see that he was not committed to changing anyone’s conditions so much as securing their right to change their condition for themselves. Liberty is the condition we should be protecting, not government’s power to rearrange people’s lives.

It is not surprising that we should believe or expect the government to be benevolent, despite the numerous checks and balances which the Framers of the Constitution wisely wove into the document. For we must in the final analysis be governed by virtuous human beings.

The question, again, always is, who are we to trust? The progressives’ claim appears quite strong, for who can quarrel with a desire to make things better for people? But, again, that depends on what actually makes us better.

There is an alternative the progressives’ claims, the sheepdog narrative, one that I had the pleasure of reading lately. According to this account, there are wolves and sheep in the world and the former are bound to make life miserable for the latter. But, there are also sheepdogs in the world who are as ferocious as the wolves but are dedicated to protecting the sheep. Because of many sheep’s defeatist attitude (and wolves’ guile), the situation appears hopeless.

Too often the sheep hope that the wolves can be persuaded to stop terrorizing them by appealing to their reason and decency. But as often as this appeasement policy has been tried it has failed, as the victims of German and Japanese aggression can attest.

Granted, government is a kind of gamble because the very qualities of the sheepdogs that are useful in protecting the sheep can be turned against them. But if care is taken to ensure the sheepdogs’ loyalty to the herd, this problem is not insoluble.

Most Americans have little or no difficulty appreciating the sacrifices made on their behalf by our warriors, and even believe that they genuinely possess the requisite moral virtue for this purpose. But our nation’s military defenders have their detractors, who resent both the warriors and the huge reservoir of goodwill they has earned from their fellow citizens.

Progressives spend an inordinate amount of time maligning the motives of those who they feel are a threat to millions of victims. They are right to believe that human psychology has more to do with politics and society than is generally believed. Their mistake consists in exempting themselves from the analysis.

People with an academic background, such as Barack Obama, deeply resent the fact that business men and women are a lot better at providing goods and services than they are. They feel no less resentful that warriors contribute more tangibly to national safety than they do. So it is not surprising that breaking the hold of entrepreneurs and soldiers on the public mind is foremost on their list of objectives.

Imposing onerous rules and taxes on business enterprises is a great way to show their owners who’s boss. And cutting back on defense spending and holding endless (and pointless) negotiations with hostile nations is equally useful for putting military personnel in their place.

Those with overweening ambitions will always seek ways to elevate themselves over others. Pretending to be the friend of the "common people" happens to be the favored strategy of those who are left behind in the marketplace competition or cannot win wars.

Among the signals that President Obama is sending with his dithering in Afghanistan is his manifest discomfort with having to turn to the armed forces to achieve his objectives. Placing his faith in the spoken and written word, as academics are inclined to do, he cannot abide men of action. For, Abraham Lincoln once said, "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Of course, when Lincoln honored the soldiers’ sacrifice, he established himself as a true keeper of the people’s liberties.

Why Democrats call their critics liars

In their public statements on health insurance reform, Democratic spokesmen have consistently dismissed those with objections to government health care as liars. In emails from the Democratic National Committee (which I have been receiving regularly ever since I asked a question) Republicans such as Reps. John Boehner of Ohio and Michelle Bachman of Minnesota and others have been singled out for this charge. Yes, I know that Republican congressman Joe Wilson from South Carolina shouted "liar" at President Barack Obama in a speech to Congress when he denied that illegal aliens would receive medical care under the Democrats’ health reform bill. But several times during his speech Obama repeated the line that he and other members of his party have put forth that critics are lying.

This has gone so far as government agencies ordering health insurance companies to cease informing their clients that costs will go up under government health care, congressional committees demanding access to records of companies who are critical, and most recently Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi chastising those firms for their bad "behavior" that points up the need for a "public option."

So seldom do liberal Democrats make the case for their policies on the merits, I have concluded that they believe that no legitimate reason can justify opposition. Their longest-standing device has been to denounce their critics as "special interests" who are utterly indifferent or downright hostile to the common good or the rights of others.

Insurance and drug companies, doctors and hospitals may not be public office holders, but they have as much right to express their opinion on legislation as anyone else. They are involved in commerce, which is hardly a crime, and they represent thousands of employees and millions of consumers who depend on them for their efforts. All ad hominem attacks on opposing arguments are not only fallacious but a bad reflection on the perpetrators of them.

There is a fundamental reason why so-called progressives habitually dismiss their critics so summarily. It is, I believe, because the now one-century old progressive movement, led by such stalwarts and Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow, concluded that the U.S. Constitution was an antiquated document that stood in the way of regulation of the modern corporation and of the alleged ideal of equality of condition.

Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution can be honestly interpreted to support equality of condition. The former declares that we all possess the same rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by nature, and the latter only secures those rights. In the marketplace in which millions of Americans participate every day, government’s role is to make uniform rules to ensure fair treatment, not to redistribute income from one person or entity to another.

Roosevelt, Wilson and their followers over the years in both political parties believed that something they call an historical process or evolution is moving mankind toward greater and greater equality of condition, and their role as statesmen is to lead their fellow citizens (who don’t always share their enthusiasm) toward the "glorious future" awaiting them.

Not our human nature but history unbound by nature is the basis for human progress, a position with which Obama and his fellow Democrats are in full agreement. As avatars of benefits yet to come, progressives have little patience with those of a different mind.

If this weren’t enough, those who have attended colleges and universities have been taught by professors in the social sciences and humanities that human beings are not governed by reason but entirely by passions such as greed (economic) and lust (sexual). Of course, routinely teachers of this doctrine exempt themselves from it as they claim to possess "value free" objectivity. The practical effect of this teaching is to stigmatize those who disagree with it and to license "enlightened" people to indulge any desires they wish.

Republicans, businessmen, middle class homeowners, Caucasians, males and heterosexuals have all been stigmatized for years, and they are expected meekly to accept their reduction to second-class citizenship. That so many Americans have spoken up at tea parties, town hall meetings, in letters to the editor, on talk radio and the internet is extremely inconvenient for those who believe that growing government to seize incomes and manage our daily lives is inevitable.

As ever, we are free to chart our own future which, for a growing number of us, does not include unconstitutional government. That is the truth that progressives must continue to deny.