"Universal Health Care isn't in the Constitution!" So what?

The other day an acquaintance, a man in his 60s, approached me: "You still a liberal?"

I smiled. "Yes, I'm afraid so."

"What's it going to take to change your mind?!"

"I don't think there's anything that's going to change my mind," I answered.

"And you support Universal Health Care?" He asked. I nodded. "We don't need Universal Health Care! Anybody in the country can go into the emergency room and get treated!"

I said, "I'm not going to argue about this. I've got a migraine. You win." I didn't argue that the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in America is from uninsured medical expenses. Or that I believe medical care is a human right. Or that my entire worldview is intertwined with my faith in Jesus Christ, and in his example and teaching.

He said, "Health care isn't in the Constitution!"

"I don't care what's in the Constitution," I answered truthfully.

He said, "I do. Oh well, I'm just giving you a hard time," and that was the end of the conversation.

But really, what IS it about this whole CONSTITUTION thing? It's a lot like biblical inerrantism, isn't it? That "if we could just get back to the original text" ... "the original intentions" of the "original writers" ...

It's kind of comforting or cathartic, isn't it? To believe that we have a magic document that would solve all the world's problems if we just FOLLOWED IT VERBATIM! It gives us an answer for... well... everything! Why is there suffering in the world? Why is there poverty? Why can't I make enough money? Or protect my family? Or stop people with other beliefs from polluting my community? Well the answer is simple: we're not following the fundamental teachings of the Bible. Or of the Constitution.

I feel even more strongly about the Constitution than I do about scripture: why in the world have we (Americans) put our faith in a 200 year old document written by white, male, slave-owning, American Indian-killing revolutionaries? How have they earned our unflagging allegiance? Many were geniuses, I'll give them that. And many where perhaps better than the social norms of their day. A few of them freed their slaves - after they died (I mean, no use sacrificing convenience while you're still breathing). And most probably never killed an American Indian with their own hands... I guess that's something.

I don't care what's in the Constitution (sorry, new crop of hipster-Libertarians). I care about what's good. I care about what's kind. I care about what will most benefit the poorest and most vulnerable in our society... Yes, even if that means I have to pay higher taxes (God forbid!). I'm not debating the efficacy of government programs. I know "good enough for government" is a tired joke that's rarely funny because it's so often true. But that argument, too often, becomes a sleazy tactic to avoid compassion completely.

This is right in line with an older post about "truth and goodness." If goodness somehow conflicts, head on, with biblical teaching, then I'll choose goodness. Jesus did the same.


Brent said...

Do you really believe in universal health care? I would only believe you if you are currently paying for someone else' health care right now. If not, how can you contrive your responsibility to your believes and the following inaction on others?

Peter said...

Brent, I find the attitude that one would only support a policy that directly benefits them absolutely appalling and unconscionable. I couldn't care less about the inaction of others. I care about the inaction of me. I care about the inaction of the Body of Christ. Whether or not the current proposed government plan is the BEST plan, the lack of compassion from those opposing health care is shameful.

Peter said...

I should add, I have a wonderful ("Cadillac") health policy, and don't pay a dime. But I actually care about people I don't know. And who have less. And I'm willing to pitch in.

James said...

I think that everyone should have healthcare and if a tax rate hike is what is needed I guess I am ok with that, maybe. But, to imply that people who are opposed to a government run system do not "actually care" is a little bit much. I know many evangelicals that are very concerned with the health care problem, and, many are actively involved in nongovernmental organizations that are working to help those that can not afford it. I know that the Body of Christ has been extremely negligent in its care of the poor but there are some that are working to fix that.
Evangelicals are often villainized as not caring, but time and again studies have shown that volunteerism and charitable giving are consistently higher in conservative evangelical communities than in their secular counterparts. All that to say, people who are opposed to government run healthcare are shameful and uncaring? Really? So I can have the same conviction that it is the responsibility of the Christian to help those that are in need. But, if I do not share the same political ideologies that you hold, that you consider to be the answer, then I am shameful?

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

I've just recently discovered your blog and I find it very interesting and eye-opening. As someone who considers herself an egalitarian Christian, I find that my views often parallel your own.

I have to disagree with you on this topic however. As a student who currently has no health insurance, I don't want you to think I'm speaking out of callousness towards the situation of others. I simply feel that there's no better way to waste resources than to put the federal government in charge of administering a program. On what Brent wrote, I don't think he was saying that he would only support a program that benefits him personally. I think he was simply pointing out that people often rally for programs and then expect the taxpayers at large to pay for them, instead of putting their money where their mouths are and paying out of their own pockets. He wrote, "I would only believe you [your belief in universal healthcare] if you were paying for someone elses' health care right now..." He was suggesting that you could voluntarily pay someone else's medical expenses, even without the government forcing you to do so.

Peter said...

Some good clarifiers here - thank you James and Anonymous. James, in countless interactions I have with those opposing healthcare, and much of the rhetoric coming from the right on television and in the news is entirely focused on personal impact. That's what I was responding to, particularly, in Brent's comment. Not that opposing healthcare is unconscionable and shameful, but that suggesting a core requirement of political or policy should somehow require personal benefit. That is the problem in this debate: it's being carried out on the right by people who don't articulate compassion as part of the discussion at all.

Anonymous, I completely understand and affirm your distrust/distaste of government-run programs. At this point, I see that as an entirely separate issue, for me. Personally - as socialized medicine won't necessarily benefit me directly or immediately - it's a matter of the condition of my heart and attitude toward others. I don't mean that to sound holier-than-thou. But too much American policy is run by self-determinists and extreme-capitalists.

For me, this issue is less about government's potential to do good or evil, and more about America's need to develop and nurture an ethic of communal responsibility.

Thanks, all!

Brent said...

Thanks, James and Anon. those do clarify some of my arguments.

I will agree that healthcare is a right, just as bearing arms. But I don’t want the government putting guns in the hands of everybody. And I don’t want the government restricting healthcare.

I cannot see you of all people advocating for Christian morals to be imposed on the society at large.

I don’t have insurance, but I don’t want the Government stealing money from my fellow Americans and take away the responsibility I have to my own life. If I really wanted health insurance I would get it. I would make it happen. I understand some do not have this ability and think this is a good place that Christians could do even more.

All this goes back to a greater argument and that is of the individual vs. the group. Which one should be elevated in society? I believe if you elevate the individual’s value you have subsequently increased the value of the whole group. But if you do it in reverse the collective thought can only lead to great atrocity on a specific “type” of person. It may sound good but at some point there will be a “type” of person that will not agree with the group leaders and at its extreme you have Nazi Germany. What I see nowadays is the vises of this thinking clamping down on society and America. Eventually the individuals in these “groups” will pay for their resistance to this thought and the Capos in these “groups” of are time will go along with the collective ideology.

One of the greatest thing about Christianity is the understanding we have a choice and using our choice to choose to bless and help the others in society. That is real compassion, not offloading our personal responsibility to the rest of America. Slavery had a collective component and history shows that only America has led in its decline. It is short sided to see America as the evil of slavery when the evil has been throughout history. Maybe you could be proud that it was with the Constitution and many individual in America that led this nation to abolish it? Did it take to long? Yes. Did it take to long for equality? Yes. But what good does it do to look back at past evils and ignore the futures possibilities. A mind set in the past is distant from the present and hopeless in the future. I know I’ve been there.

My comment was only to question if you were attempting to disperse your own convictions onto the group which intrinsically distances you from your own guilt. I see now that your response was to a group you perceive as collectively evil.

You want me to think collectively then I ask when will you forgive us individual Christian’s our mistakes?

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