Friday, January 14, 2011

Health Reform is a Moral Imperative

Paul Krugman says that the divide in America is not about politics; it's about morality. Those of us who are in favor of health reform believe that the safety net is a moral imperative. We believe that "wealthy nations . . . have an obligation to provide all their citizens with essential care." The opponents believe that "people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft."

There’s no middle ground between these views. One side saw health reform, with its subsidized extension of coverage to the uninsured, as fulfilling a moral imperative: wealthy nations, it believed, have an obligation to provide all their citizens with essential care. The other side saw the same reform as a moral outrage, an assault on the right of Americans to spend their money as they choose.

This deep divide in American political morality — for that’s what it amounts to — is a relatively recent development. Commentators who pine for the days of civility and bipartisanship are, whether they realize it or not, pining for the days when the Republican Party accepted the legitimacy of the welfare state, and was even willing to contemplate expanding it. As many analysts have noted, the Obama health reform — whose passage was met with vandalism and death threats against members of Congress — was modeled on Republican plans from the 1990s.

But that was then. Today’s G.O.P. sees much of what the modern federal government does as illegitimate; today’s Democratic Party does not. When people talk about partisan differences, they often seem to be implying that these differences are petty, matters that could be resolved with a bit of good will. But what we’re talking about here is a fundamental disagreement about the proper role of government.

This seems right to me. And you know what side I'm on. I would not spend my entire life working to help others if I did not believe that doing so is a moral imperative. We cannot have people getting sicker and sicker because they were one of the millions who were laid off due to the recession. Not only is that cold, but it's stupid -- people left untreated get sicker, and when their illness spirals out of control, they end up in an emergency room where the taxpayers foot the bill when they can't.

I guess that's my only disagreement with Krugman -- health reform makes sense from an economic point of view, not only from a moral one. Jennifer

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