Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Unspoken Assumptions

     Much public debate occurs on a platform whose shape and dimensions are understood intuitively by all the advocates for each side. In the debate on contraception, for instance, it is well understood that no one may legitimately disapprove of anyone else’s sexual lifestyle. It is an unspoken assumption that how often consenting adults consent is none of our business. The debate turns instead on who should pay for enabling their lifestyle. Questions about whether promiscuity itself is blameworthy—for instance, because it is risky behavior with a high chance of collateral consequences for society—arise beyond the edge of the debate platform. In the matter of the Affordable Care Act, which the Supreme Court has taken up this week, the unspoken assumption is that “we” must “do” something about the alleged problem of however many people there are without health insurance. Those on the Right argue that the ACA overreaches with its individual mandate (they are right), and that we should do something else. Those on the Left argue that the noble goal of universal coverage justifies the means (they are wrong). Neither side, however, seems to doubt that the government (“we”) must take action.

     Accepting the unspoken assumption that all problems have a government solution is to lose every argument with the Left from the outset. Conservatives must change the dimensions of the debate platform. Conservatives must articulate and defend non-governmental solutions to social ills. Here is where religious institutions have traditionally and effectively operated. They are not the only alternatives to government, of course, as the success of private, secular charities establishes. The irony of hearing the Left argue for government funding of contraception is rich, given the amount of birth control provided at subsidized rates by Planned Parenthood. Is there any real crisis of availability, even without government aid? (Of course, Planned Parenthood actually does receive some government funding, but apparently that is not enough for proponents of the ACA.  At any rate, abortions are privately funded by the charity, if the assurances of its leaders are to be believed.)  As for other health care, government intervention appears to have worsened the problem of cost. By socializing a large portion of the market for medical care, through Medicare and Medicaid, the government has forced the shifting of the cost burden onto those who must pay the (artificially high) market price. What if the government simply got out of that market? What if the government stopped interfering with the work of private and religious charities (think of the mandates for Catholic Charities to place orphans with gay couples)? Who knows what alternatives there may be?

     This much is true: The catechism of the Left states that all problems must be solved by government. If the missionaries of the Left ever convert a majority of Americans to that particular creed, then liberty will be lost.


  1. I think the American mindset is exactly that: every problem must be solved by government. Ever since FDR solved a few problems with big gov, and big gov Johnson style solved (mostly) our racial discrimination problems (at least under law), and big gov went to the moon, most people look to the Feds to engineer everything for us. Government has power, that's why it's effective. But too much of that is intrusive on our liberties (your point). We're all in and Congress, especially, panders to this mindset. I want the government out of my yard. Please, please, send me no more pork.

    1. "Please, please, send me no more pork."

      That's it. I'm writing you in on the ballot next fall.