Healthcare and the Progressive Mind

A progressive, by which I mean a self-important control freak with despotic tendencies, reveals his character less in specific policy positions than in his general attitude about human problems and the opportunities arising from them. Specifically, the progressive, who cares about human hardship and suffering only insofar as these may be exploited to further his paternalistic aims, has an indefatigable instinct for creating psychological distance between himself and any real live moral situation. In such a mind, even the most urgently concrete problems are instantly converted into abstractions requiring not action (his own action), but a bureaucratic committee, a white paper, an edict. In short, a progressive is a person who achieves moral self-absolution by perceiving himself as a moral legislator – and therefore above the law, a superior being – rather than a moral agent, responsible for his actions and answerable to his fellow men.

For a modern classic of this standard progressive moral abstraction, or moral self-absolution, recall Barack Obama’s answer, during a 2012 presidential debate, to the question of what, if anything, he did to help the U.S. government agents under siege for seven hours in Benghazi.

As soon as we found out the Benghazi consulate was being overrun, I was on the phone with my national security team, and I gave them three instructions: Number one, beef up our security and procedures, not just in Libya, but in every embassy and consulate in the region. Number two, investigate exactly what happened, regardless of where the facts lead us…. And number three, we are going to find out who did this and we are going to hunt them down.

According to this account, which Obama reiterated almost verbatim on subsequent occasions, his real-time response to hearing that Americans were in immediate peril was to initiate investigations and take precautions against future threats. According to Obama himself, it did not cross his mind to take action to save the men actually being attacked. Instead, he spent the moments of their death struggle making “big plans” about no one in particular, rather than trying to save those real live human beings when he was the only man who may have been in a position to do so. A perfect example of the moral self-absolution of the superior being: “I’m not morally obligated to do anything, but I’ll take this opportunity to make darn sure everyone else is.”

Translate the essence of that uncommon crisis into the workaday world of human life and modern politics, and you may observe the all-too-common progressive animal in its natural habitat.

Apart from education, there is probably no social issue which exposes the paternalistic character more consistently than healthcare, which is to the physical realm what education is to the spiritual. Socialized medicine and socialized education (i.e., public schooling) neatly serve as the bookends of modern man’s library of tyranny.

The progressive animal enjoys a good wallow in the muck

Therefore, as Republicans prepare to “tackle” (i.e., tiptoe away from) the long-promised repeal of Barack Obama’s signature legislation, the “Affordable Care Act” (i.e., the “Complicate the System Until Full-Blown Single Payer Seems the Only Viable Solution Act”), we might benefit from taking a moment to remind ourselves exactly what the progressive approach to healthcare entails as an intellectual position, legislative details aside. For just as in education, where generations of progressive propaganda have left self-described conservatives tacitly accepting the key premises of socialist egalitarianism even as they imagine they are defending educational freedom and “choice” (see here and here), so on healthcare we are always hearing so-called conservatives talking about the urgency of ensuring that everyone gets the best available healthcare, as though that could possibly mean anything in practice other than economic redistribution and state-regulated medicine. As though “the best available healthcare” were a human right. As though there were some injustice in people not having equal access to exactly the same material goods or services. As though such equal access would not necessarily require the violation of other people’s lives, liberty, and property, and the state-mandated lowering of healthcare standards in the name of fairness. (Self-deluded Canadians, save your breath; I’m Canadian too, but have chosen, against type, to live with my eyes open.) As though attempting to guarantee desirable outcomes through market-rigging and government-corporate “partnerships” were not an inherently authoritarian idea.

Since it is the Republican Party that will determine how Obamacare is to be “repealed and replaced,” and since I am one of those who regard America’s supposed two-party system as an elaborate uniparty ruse, it is instructive to consider how the GOP’s titular head approaches the healthcare issue. On January 31, 2016, during an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Donald Trump gave Americans a textbook demonstration of the progressive mind. His legions of true believers chose to ignore this, of course, just as they will soon whitewash the “Obamacare-lite” bridge to nowhere that his administration and the Congress are likely to roll out in the coming months.

Trump, unlike many of his followers, deserves credit for never having claimed to be a conservative. For many years, he was a vocal proponent of socialized healthcare, although recent pragmatic considerations have reduced him to being a mere sentimentalist about it. (“It works in Canada…. It could have worked [in America] in a different age,” he said during an early primary debate.) However, in explaining to Stephanopoulos the difference between his approach to healthcare and that of his chief rival at the time, Ted Cruz, Trump let the cat out of the bag:

If somebody has no money and they’re lying in the middle of the street and they’re dying, I’m going to take care of that person.

When Stephanopoulos asked the obvious question — “How?” — Trump showed his core:

We’re going to work with our hospitals. We’re going to work with our doctors. We’ve got to do something. You can’t have a — a small percentage of our economy, because they’re down and out, have absolutely no protection so they end up dying from, you know, what you could have a simple procedure or even a pill. You can’t do that.

We’ll work something out. That doesn’t mean single payer. And I mean, maybe he’s got no heart. And if this means I lose an election, that’s fine, because, frankly, we have to take care of the people in our country. We can’t let them die on the sidewalks of New York or the sidewalks of Iowa or anywhere else.

Leaving aside the obvious lack of a coherent plan, did you notice the progressive moral shift? “I’m going to take care of that person.” How? “We’re going to work with our hospitals…. We have to take care of the people…. We can’t let them die on the sidewalks….”

By “we” here, Trump obviously means “the government.” So his natural response to seeing a man dying on the street is not to help the man, but to create a paternalistic government program to help some abstract entity called “a small percentage of our economy” or “the people in our country.” Let’s be clear about this. The way Trump has described the scenario, the man’s problem is supposedly a lack of funds. And yet Trump, a multi-billionaire, immediately transfers his own moral responsibility over to the collective. His idea of having “a heart” is to demand that the state forcibly take money from other people to provide for this man’s needs, rather than “taking care of” the man himself.

Furthermore, it is typical of progressives to reduce everything to emergencies, “lifeboat scenarios” as they say in moral issues classes. Okay, so we’re talking about an emergency medical situation. But the progressive mind instinctively sees all situations in the abstract. When you and I see a man dying in the street, our first thought is, “What kind of help could I give him at this moment to save his life or alleviate his suffering?” The progressive thinks, “What kind of government program or regulation could we devise that would prevent people from dying in the street?”

Do you see the difference? You certainly would if you were the man dying in the street.

And if you are an American, you may well be that man someday, if the U.S. becomes further entrenched in the methods and mentality of socialized medicine. Except that you won’t be dying in the street; you will be dying, ignored, in the bustling hallway of a hospital emergency ward, or in the antiseptic embrace of a palliative care room as the kindly nurses starve and drug you to death, or while waiting months in line for tests or procedures that were needed promptly, or after being denied treatments or second opinions that some bureaucrat deemed wasteful and unnecessary.

That purified, civilized version of dying in the street may be enough to satisfy the egos of Trump, Obama, Pelosi, McConnell, and other knee-jerk progressives. It falls somewhat short of the moral standards of normal men and women with their real, concrete concerns about the well-being of those around them — but of course we can’t all be superior beings, living happily in the abstract, now can we? 

For more on the progressive “soul,” I refer you to my series, Progressivism 101. And for a dramatic presentation of the principle of moral abstraction described above, see the following:

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