We can talk all we want about freedom and opportunity, about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but what does all that mean to a mother or father who can’t take a sick child to the doctor?
That, my fellow Democrats, is our frontrunner for our party’s nomination for President of the United States, Sen. Hillary Clinton. Sen. Clinton made that statement in presenting her plan for health care reform which, like that of former Sen. John Edwards, would compel all Americans to enroll in a health insurance program. Citizens would have an option of many private insurance options, or a public option similar to Medicare. Tax credits would ensure that no American is forced to pay more than a certain percentage of their income on health insurance.
I have little desire to speak out against health care reform, or against plans that would make affordable health care available to all Americans. It is, for certain, a very noble pursuit. What I’d like to talk about is the deeply disturbing cavalier attitude towards freedom as expressed by Sen. Clinton in that quote, which is endemic among elected officials of both political parties.
What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.
The above quotation is from Thomas Paine, in December of 1776. John Adams once said of Paine that if it had not been for his writings, the “sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain.” These are the ideas without which America could never have come to be. But what is freedom, anyways?
The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.
The above quotation would never be uttered by Sen. Clinton, or likely by any elected official in America today. It was written by John Stuart Mill, in the famed treatise On Liberty, who is perhaps the greatest philosopher on the subject of freedom in human history.
Men such as Paine and Mill were essential to spreading the idea of freedom to political thinkers world wide. But we all know that the desire to be free is a universal human truth. We have all seen the often bloody struggle of people to be free played out on the global stage, from the success of the Solidarity movement in Poland in ending the communism of the Soviet Union, to the worldwide campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.
Yet freedom today is often little more than a slogan. President Bush speaks of bringing freedom to Iraq as his State Department covers up the use of slave labor in the construction of the US Embassy there. Sen. Clinton speaks of freedom as an irrelevancy if one cannot have health insurance. Forty-two Republican Senators and Joe Lieberman blocked a bill to restore the right of habeas corpus just yesterday. More than half of all Americans believe that the Constitution establishes the US as a Christian nation and a quarter of Americans believe the First Amendment goes too far in the freedoms it grants Americans.
It ought to go without saying that if we do not hold freedom as our highest of values, that our representatives will not. And if those of us who do value freedom do not speak of its virtue, those Americans who do not believe in or appreciate it will rule our nation.
Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err. It passes my comprehension how human beings, be they ever so experienced and able, can delight in depriving other human beings of that precious right.
– Mahatma Ghandi
Few people, no matter how callous, would wish any Americans to be deprived of access to health care. I salute the desire to help Americans which is implicit in Sen. Clinton’s health care plan. But as much as I like its intent, I cannot abide the decision to take away from Americans the freedom to make the wrong choice. What does my freedom mean if I cannot go to a doctor when I am sick, Sen. Clinton? It means that my life is my own, free to do with what I wish, even if those choices do me great and irreparable harm. Compelled virtue is no virtue at all.
It is not your health plan which scares me, Sen. Clinton, and which makes me inclined to support other candidates in the primaries. It is your failure to understand and respect the value of freedom. And since I cannot possibly express it any more eloquently, I turn once again to the words of Mr. Mill.
The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.
(Cross-posted from Daily Kos)