BernieCare is Your Right
Why is this man smiling? Photo: Nick Solari
The egregiously inept attempt by Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare has led us to this. Earlier this week, Independent Senator Bernard Sanders (I-Vermont), who describes himself as a democratic (note lower case d) socialist, introduced a bill to convert American healthcare to a single-payer system. He tried to do this before in 2013 but his proposed bill made nary a ripple in Congress back then. So what’s different this time?
The difference this time is that 16 Democratic Senate (upper case D) colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors of the proposed bill (compared to 0 previously). Among these co-signers are several potential presidential candidates for the 2020 presidential election (Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker and Kamala Harris, among others). The Dems think they have found an issue that will help them wrest control of the Congress and the White House from the Republicans. It was Republican ineptitude that handed this issue to them on a silver platter.
They are going to cloak this issue in the American flag and try to convince us that universal healthcare is a basic human right and as American as apple pie and baseball. But wait a minute. What about food and shelter? If healthcare is a basic human right, shouldn’t food and shelter also be human basic human rights? Food and shelter are even more basic than healthcare. Shouldn’t the Democrats also push for government provided food and shelter? Oh, they will. But that is for future campaigns.
Senator Sanders and his progressive pals will insist that all the other major countries have single-payers systems so why should we keep an American system that is so archaic and dysfunctional? But America is the leader of the free world and leading means doing things differently than the followers. And as for dysfunctionality we must rely on the words of Winston Churchill who said that the Americans can be counted on to do the right thing after they have tried everything else. The reason that the Republicans failed so miserably was that they lacked boldness in their efforts to reform healthcare, settling instead to trying to rejigger an entitlement without calling it an entitlement. Maybe the next time they will do the right thing (finally).
But how does this right to healthcare arise? The right to healthcare is a so-called positive right (also called an entitlement). What I am more familiar with as our rights are now called negative rights (also called liberties). For the rest of our discussion we will use the descriptors positive and negative when referring to rights in order avoid confusion.
A negative right (or liberty) bars others from interfering with you or blocking you from taking some action. The Bill of Rights is full of negative rights (I guess they thought that calling it the Bill of Negative Rights wouldn’t sound as good thus leading to our current confusion). (The same would also apply to Life, Negative Right and the pursuit of Happiness.) The government cannot ban our speaking out or oppose our practicing a religion. If our country was conceived in liberty as Abraham Lincoln said then it was conceived in negative rights.
We are also endowed with certain positive rights. If someone tries to block our ability to speak out we have the right to demand that the government prevent that person from blocking our assertion of our negative right. Positive rights can also arise by contract. If I buy a car with a warranty I have a positive right (in other words I am entitled) to have any defect repaired.
The Founders conceived of our “rights” as derived from natural rights because they are universal and inalienable. Enlightenment philosopher John Locke envisioned that people had natural rights even when existing in a pre-societal state of nature. When people enter into a social contract with other human beings to form a society they contractually agree that their natural rights are limited by the natural rights of others. Our American Social Contract entitles us to the positive right that others have the duty to respect our (negative) rights. Many philosophers believe that human rights are natural rights (and therefore are negative rights).
Some people believe that human rights include positive rights. The first 21 articles of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights are natural and negative rights. The remaining 9 articles are considered cultural and economic rights some of which could be construed as positive rights. The problem with positive rights is that they entail an obligation on others to take action in order to achieve the positive right.
Senator Sanders and the Democrats assert that people have a positive right to healthcare services because it is a human right. But the means to achieve this positive right requires others (you and me as taxpayers) to provide the financial resources necessary to achieve the goal of universal healthcare (a point which Senator Sanders failed to discuss when he unveiled his proposed bill). We can see that this interferes with our natural right to our own property (the income we have earned or the accumulated wealth we have saved). Locke conceived of property as one of the most important rights because if you do not have right to keep what you have created you really have no rights at all.
So the demand for universal healthcare is not a human right, it is a usurpation of the negative rights of one group (to dispose of their property as they see fit) for the benefit of another group. This is not one of the principles on which our country was founded. In fact, the Founders purposefully included checks on the tyranny of the majority (the ability of the majority to dictate terms unfavorable to a minority).
This is the thing that separates America from the other large economies and their single-payer healthcare systems. Unlike other countries, the United States was founded based on certain principles based on our natural rights. If we discard those principles in order to provide healthcare or any other entitlement (I mean positive right), are we still America? Further, does the extension of “human rights” stop at healthcare or go on to include all the other aspects of our economy (that’s called socialism but, heck, Bernie is an avowed socialist).
Before we take such a drastic step (and it is a very drastic step off a precipice) are we not obligated to try and fix healthcare (and other dysfunctional sectors of our society) by faithfully applying the principles on which we were founded? This is a difficult challenge but one that faithfully preserves the idea (emphasis added) of America.