As frustrating as it is, the ongoing Washington stalemate on health care, immigration and almost any other essential issue should not be surprising. It is not politics as some claim. It is a deep ideological rift among Americans.
Recently, my Congressman, Bill Foster (D) held meetings with his constituents asking questions about the budget. We were seated in groups of six and asked to reach decisions on 39 budgets choices he is facing in Congress. In my group we could not grasp any reasonable consensus. On issues we agreed, other groups reached opposite conclusions. There is a big elephant in the room, and it is not what Time suggests – the nation is even deeper divided than the politicians in Washington are.
The core of this division is on expectations of what we have the government for. It is worth to recall, that in its origination, the United States was founded on the concept of limited government, on the concept that people can handle their own affairs themselves the best, and that they needed the government just for protection from foreign enemies and for securing the order. It was understood that the liberty to pursue one’s individual goals should not be hindered neither by another individual nor any government agency. Formally this is still on the books, and there are still people seriously thinking that this is the way it supposed to be.
Reality is far from this original concept. Between Medicare, Medicaid and other programs – before the ACA even started – the government pays almost half of our health care bills; 45% in 2011, to be precise. The fundamental question is should it pay any? Should it not just limit itself to secure all citizens equal rights to arrange their health care the way they want and stay away from paying for it, with an exception of military personnel on duty? Regardless of political affiliations, most Americans tend to accept much greater government participation in health care. On immigration – another antagonizing issue – Americans accepted government tight control, meaning nationalization of the pivotal part of the labor market, the labor of foreigners. For the first 210 years of the Republic, Americans could hire whomever they wanted, regardless of this person’s immigration status. The immigration law of 1986 took this liberty away. Today most Americans support E-Verify, a totalitarian style government intrusion into freedom of enterprise, more suitable for the Soviet style system, which I experienced, than for America that Tocqueville was writing about.
Following media, one might conclude that the ideological rift is between conservatives and liberals, often called progressives as well. If it was, eventually whatever side is right on any issue, it would prevail. The truth is that both conservatives and progressives are for liberties and limited government, except issues for other reasons important to them. On these issues they do not mind to relinquish all their rights, liberties and desires for small government in exchange for goodies, guaranties protection, and power that the visible hand of government can deliver. Progressives do this on healthcare, conservatives on immigration. And, this is just the tip of a very long list.
The real dichotomy is not between conservatives and liberals but between supporters of the capitalistic system as understood by the Founding Fathers (despite that they did not use this term) and supporters of socialistic concepts that society as a whole has the right and duty to form collectively some lofty goals. Then, that it should put government in charge of executing these goals, and that it has rights to take away liberties of individuals in the process of implementing these collectively agreed utmost ideas. It is pure socialism in a nutshell. The irony is that both liberals and conservatives fall for these illusions that socialism might work this one time, despite that so far it did not work anywhere else, and has not been working when applied in the U.S. either. Socialistic concepts formed our present health care and immigration systems, and this is the main reason of rising out of control health care costs, high percentage of uninsured and illegal immigration.
The ongoing drama around the healthcare reform highlights “honest and substantial differences between the parties” as President Obama once said with a tone of resignation that they ever could be resolved. President Obama was wrong; the country cannot function without debating constantly these “substantial differences.”
Each generation needs to revise the role of the government. We can begin with asking the question: “Should the government get involved to begin with?” every time any legislative issue comes on the agenda. Now legislators proudly list regulations they introduced and supported to pass. The first sign of positive change will be when legislators’ point of pride will be in fixing some of our problems by eliminating existing laws and leaving nothing instead.