September 13, 2011

Heartlessness as a Tenet

During the discussion of the Affordable Care Act, one of the most contentious issues was the personal mandate. Indeed, that is the legal basis being used by its opponents while seeking a declaration of its unconstitutionality. Conservatives emphasized how unfair it was to force a healthy young man to pay for health insurance when the likelihood of his becoming severely ill is small.

So now let's fast-forward to last night's Tea Party debate, specifically this moment, where the death prospect of a previously healthy and uninsured young man is applauded. When such a healthy young man suddenly faces enormous medical bills due to an unforeseen circumstance, several members of the audience indicated passionately that he should die rather than receive Government assistance.

So, let's switch back to the 'unfairness' argument. If it is unfair to make a healthy young man buy health insurance, what is our attitude towards him if he doesn't and then becomes gravely ill? Was he just being irresponsible all along? If he was being irresponsible, why is it 'unfair' to make him behave responsibly? If we don't agree that he's being irresponsible, then is he just being a risk-taker, the kind of entrepreneurial risk-takers we admire in America who succeed if their risk pays off and fail if it doesn't?

Now let's switch back to the shouts of 'Yeah!' from the audience in the cited video clip. By doing so  are they saying 'He took the risk and it didn't pay off. It's bad luck, but I don't think it's my job to bail him out!' or are they saying 'He was irresponsible for not buying health insurance and so he's paying the price for it.'

In either case, what disturbs me most about this is that some Tea Party Conservatives seem to be embracing a position of heartlessness as an actual tenet of belief rather than a lamentable side effect of their beliefs. We applaud (read: encourage) heroes who rescue people who have engaged in irresponsible, reckless, or risky behavior when they are in situations of peril, e.g., those who search for a group of hikers who've gotten lost. How is rescuing someone's life by medical means any different? Are Tea Party Conservatives going to stop applauding such heroism? Are Tea Party Conservatives actually beginning to embrace Hobbes' critical view of the 'natural' life of man as "....solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short"?

This all reminds me of a great quote from the film Airplane!, where the 'James Kilpatrick' character says of passengers on a doomed flight: "...they bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into. I say, let 'em crash."