Ron Paul and the Cruelty of “Freedom”
The most memorable moment from Monday night’s Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Florida was when the crowd cheered moderator Wolf Blitzer’s question of whether the uninsured should be left to die.
But the justified outrage over the audience’s reaction has obscured another important piece of the exchange: Paul’s actual answer. After initially appearing to imply the man should be refused care, Paul backed down:
BLITZER: But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?
PAUL: No. I practiced medicine before we had Medicaid, in the early 1960s, when I got out of medical school. I practiced at Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio , and the churches took care of them. We never turned anybody away from the hospitals…And we’ve given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves and assume responsibility for ourselves. Our neighbors, our friends, our churches would do it.
While Ayn Rand would probably view Paul’s clarification as a cowardly retreat from libertarian principles, it’s actually an acknowledgement that basic human compassion is a principle of a just society. But if small government types like Paul agree we can and should help fellow members of our communities, why limit that impulse to those immediately around us?
In essence the question boils down to one that Jesus addressed in his parable of the Good Samaritan: “who is my neighbor?” It’s natural to rally around a sick family member, but who will care for the senior citizen who has outlived her family? Social service providers make a big difference for residents of the cities and towns they serve, but what happens to rural Americans with little access to sources of aid? Why should an uninsured child with a cancer diagnosis face an early death because he goes to a church in a poor neighborhood instead of a rich one?
These aren’t just theoretical examples, they’re real world stories that play out every day in a country where 45,000 people die annually due to lack of health insurance. And despite the noble efforts of those providing help in food pantries or churches, private charity can’t meet the overwhelming need. Just yesterday, the Census Bureau reported that another 2.6 million people fell into poverty last year, and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line (46.2 million) was the highest number in 52 years.
Structural imbalances and sheer luck play enormous roles in determining the outcomes of people’s lives. To guarantee all of our neighbors are treated with dignity requires that we come together democratically to find pragmatic, fair ways to help fill the gaps we inevitably leave when we try to do it all on our own.
We need elected officials who believe that process is possible and worthwhile. Real leaders don’t throw up their hands and tell the sick and dying they should just accept the hand they’ve been dealt. That’s not a lesson in virtuous self-reliance or freedom. It’s simply cruel.