A Further Perspective

The Civil War History of Obamacare

To ascertain the real historical import of "comprehensive national healthcare reform," don't look to Social Security or Medicare; look to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

By 3.26.10

The Democratic Left is fond of invoking history and thus heralds its new "comprehensive national healthcare reform" bill as "historic. That it is.

But the historical comparison that may be most apt isn't Social Security or Medicare, both of which were enacted into law with bipartisan majorities. This latest "reform" initiative, by contrast, hasn't gotten a single Republican vote.

No, the more apt historical analogy may be the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which, by allowing for the expansion of slavery into new federal territories, led to the Civil War.

Of course, there is no likelihood that the United States will become enmeshed in a literal or violent civil war. Our republic, though young, is far too mature and well established for that. In America, we settle our domestic disputes not through bullets, but through the ballot box.

There also is no racial aspect to this new civil war. Black and white, North and South alike -- we're all on the same team; we're all on the same side.

However, with healthcare about to become a highly regulated state-administered utility, there is a real likelihood that the United States will become enmeshed in a modern-day economic and generational civil war.

That's because just as the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 promised to perpetuate slavery in the United States, so too, does "comprehensive national healthcare reform" promise to create a new form of economic slavery in America.

The new slaves will be young, working Americans, especially those aged 30 to 50, forced to pay the crushing debt created by this massive new entitlement program.

And these who ostensibly benefit from this entitlement won't really be free because they'll soon be consigned to government-run healthcare, with all that that implies: rationed and substandard care; highly constrained choices; long waiting periods; a limited availability of doctors and physicians; and a lack of medical dynamism, innovation and progress.

Sure, Obama and the Left promise that "comprehensive national healthcare reform" will save money, but such a contention is a ludicrous and nonsensical.

After all, every other national entitlement program, from Social Security to Medicare to Medicaid, has ended up costing hundreds of billions of dollars more than the politicians had promised. And now these programs are fast driving America into bankruptcy and economic ruin.

Indeed, our entire national experience with massive government-run programs has been a fiscal and financial disaster. Yet, Obama and the Democrats promise us that this time things will be different. This time, "reform" actually will save money.

Nonsense. The price tag for this latest monstrosity will be exorbitantly expensive -- on the order of $2.5 trillion to $3 trillion over the next 10 years, according to analyst James Capretta. The result will be to again divide America into a nation that is half slave and half free. But as Lincoln observed, "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

And so this abomination, this act of economic and generational theft, cannot stand. Because like the literal act of slavery that preceded it, "comprehensive national healthcare reform" is incompatible with American liberty and the principles of freedom upon which America was founded.

That's why the healthcare reform debate, far from ending, has instead really just begun. But where is our modern-day Abraham Lincoln?

Lincoln, of course, opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 because he believed that slavery was fundamentally incompatible with America's founding principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There can be no "moral right in the enslaving of one man by another," Lincoln declared.

Lincoln's opponents, like Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, countered that they were not arguing for slavery per se. Instead, they said, they were arguing for "popular sovereignty," through which the question of slavery would be decided by voters within each of the respective territories.

Likewise, today, advocates of "comprehensive national healthcare reform" insist that they are not for eliminating private-sector medicine. They simply want to ensure that "everyone has access to healthcare." Why, they even purport to believe in choice and competition!

What's more, they say, "comprehensive national healthcare reform" isn't another costly new entitlement program. It won't massively increase the national debt and enslave future generations. No, sir, it actually will save money and help balance the budget!

Lincoln brilliantly exposed the demagoguery inherent in the argument for "popular sovereignty." (See, for instance, Harry Jaffa's seminal and brilliant Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.) But where today is a national leader of equal stature who will expose the demagoguery inherent in "comprehensive national healthcare reform"?

Where, indeed, is the national leader who will show, through careful and deliberative reason, that a sprawling and byzantine state-run healthcare system is fundamentally incompatible with America's founding principle of limited but effective government?

The president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks, spoke of this new civil or culture war last year in the Wall Street Journal:

There is a major cultural schism developing in America. But it's not over abortion, same-sex marriage or home schooling, as important as these issues are. The new divide centers on free enterprise -- the principle at the core of American culture.

Brooks is exactly right. And nowhere is this new divide more apparent than on the issue of healthcare, where the American free enterprise system, already handcuffed and heavily burdened, is on the verge of being crushed to the point of virtual extinction.

To be sure, this won't happen tomorrow or next year, or even necessarily within the next five to seven years. But make no mistake: this is the path to which "comprehensive national healthcare reform" inexorably, and perhaps irreversibly, leads: a "single payer" system in which the state monopolizes the healthcare market.

This is something that Lincoln would have understood and would have opposed. Lincoln would have understood that just as slavery had to be contained until it became extinct, so, too, with government-controlled and -rationed healthcare: It is a necessary evil that, for the foreseeable future, we are stuck with, but must contain. (Today, about half of all healthcare expenditures in America are controlled and paid for by the federal government. Yet the government's share of the healthcare marketplace will increase dramatically thanks to "comprehensive national healthcare reform.")

That is why we must contain the state. We must contain its perverse incentives which drive up costs, stymie innovation, thwart progress, destroy entrepreneurship, and ration care. But even as we contain the state, we must develop and incentivize a true market-based healthcare system, which has as its centerpiece consumer choice and consumer empowerment.

Needless to say, the current employer-based healthcare system, in which consumers must defer to the choices first made by someone else -- namely their employer -- is not the answer to what ails us; it is, instead, a part of the problem. There is, however, a better and truly market-driven way; and it is incumbent upon conservatives to show America that better way.

Here's something else Lincoln understood: the need, sometimes, for a new political party. Lincoln, remember, abandoned the Whigs to become the standard-bearer, in 1860, of the new Republican Party. The Whigs fractured over slavery and westward expansion; and their leaders grew old and tired.

Like the 19th Century Whigs, today's GOP has an age or generational problem -- though not for long, I think. "Comprehensive national healthcare reform," after all, is little more than an assault on young, working Americans, who will be forced to pay the price -- both literally and figuratively -- for Obamacare.

Consequently, James Carville's dream that the Democrats will dominate politics for the next 40 years because of their supposed lock on young voters may well turn out to be a mirage. What's more, unlike the Whigs, the GOP has remained steadfast and united in its opposition to slavery -- racial slavery then and economic slavery today.

For these reasons, the Tea Party doesn't threaten the GOP, as some big media types allege. In fact, quite the opposite: by injecting fresh thinking and new activism into the Republican Party, the Tea Partiers are giving the GOP renewed reason for hope and optimism.

In any case, the die has been cast. The defining issue of our time is now clear; and it cannot and must not be avoided. The Democratic Left and its big media allies say that issue is healthcare, but they are wrong. Healthcare is only the ruse or stalking horse for something much bigger and far more significant: namely, the Democratic Left's radical assault on America liberty and constitutional government.

And so we must resolve, as did Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address, that those who came before us

shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

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About the Author
  John R. Guardiano blogs at www.ResCon1.com, and you can follow him on Twitter: @ResCon1.