The latest iteration of a federal health care bill, the Affordable Health Care Act, has passed on a party line vote. Before that, Obamacare passed in 2008, also on a party line vote. And now, as it was then, conservatives and liberals are at each others’ throats over the issue of healthcare.
Is this what we’ve come to in America? Everything that passes is done on a party line vote? Are we unable to reach a resolution over anything, let alone healthcare?
A Divided America
There is a good article on the Huffington Post right now that discusses just this issue. That’s the first time I’ve ever written that, and might be the first time you’ve heard it from a conservative. So before you think I’ve pulled a Tomi Lahren and turned my coat for conveniences sake, consider it with me.
The article’s author, Howard Fineman, says:
On the Republican side: a phalanx of mostly white, mostly Christian, mostly men talking earnestly about liberty, freedom and unshackling business.
On the Democratic side: a bouillabaisse of races, ethnicities and genders, significantly black, Latino and female, talking about collective responsibility, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and insisting that health care is a universal right.
Fineman’s right. We are glaring and shouting at each other across a great divide. Last week, a healthcare bill passed the House on a party line vote, with all the Democrats against it and 20 Republicans joining them. And in 2009, Obamacare passed on a party line vote, with all Republicans against it and 34 Democrats joining them.
We’re splitting more and more over issues like this. But while Fineman is right to point out this divide, he’s wrong wrong about where our divide actually comes from.
The Wrong Focus
The quote above suggests that race and culture are what divides us. Many others on the left also write of “mostly white, mostly Christian, mostly men,” compared with “a bouillabaisse of races, ethnicities and genders.”
But our “divide” according to race is not a natural product of American life: rather, it’s the product of the politicization of race. The trouble began when Americans started to think of themselves first in terms of an ethnicity or a race, and not as a citizen of a nation. If our primary identifiers are “black,” “white,” “Latino,” and whatnot, then we’ll start to distrust and hate each other on those same grounds. This violates the great promises of Western and American culture.
It’s not sex, either. Contrary to what supporters of the walking political dead, Mrs. Clinton, would have us believe, Americans didn’t reject her because she’s a woman. Many conservatives, including myself, supported Marine Le Pen’s recently failed run for the French presidency.
What divides us is the actual question of healthcare. More to the point, we’re divided over whether it is a right or not.
A Question of Rights
Charles J. Reid, a law professor from the University of St. Thomas, claims that“[F]or all people, healthcare is a right. It is a right grounded on the common good.”
For such a scholar, healthcare is a positive right that government should guarantee. This sort of argument is made in the name of good-sounding ideas. It sounds wonderful to compare health care to education, to highways, and to other things we take as a matter of course in being American.
But this argument doesn’t hold up very well under scrutiny.
For example, education, if it is a right, is not an unlimited one. Though any child of an American can enroll in a local public school if they have the capacity to do so, that education can be of varied quality, ranging from decent to dismal. Further, this only lasts through the 12th grade: after that, students are on their own as far as further education extends.
Highways are also not a right at all. Rather, they’re a form of public infrastructure built and maintained at taxpayer expense.
Claims Versus Freedoms
A libertarian critique would conclude by saying that rights cannot place a positive obligation on others to act. This treats rights as fundamentally negative in character. That is, a right is a something I have upon which the government cannot trespass. This is foundational in American law, and even former President Obama used to complain that our Constitution is “a charter of negative liberties.”
English philosopher Roger Scruton has put it best, calling this view of rights “freedom rights.”
A “freedom right” is grounded in natural law, the eternal moral code which is present in all times and places. Every right we posses comes with a concomitant duty. My right to life is another’s duty not to kill me. My right to property is your duty not to rob me.
“Claim rights” say that I have a moral right to some part of the social product, that is, to the wealth produced by members of society. “Freedom rights” say that I have a moral right to do as I like, so long as I do not infringe upon he rights of others.
We aren’t divided over race or sex. Rather, we’re divided over these differing visions of rights. Whether we think healthcare is a right or not is beside the point today. What does matter is what a right is. If healthcare is a right, we must all pony up. If it’s not, well, we may lose anyway.