The Health Care Spectator

The Anti-Individual Left

If you like your health insurance, tough. Progressives have long put their collectivist schemes ahead of individual liberty.

By 10.30.13

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“If [you] already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance,” President Obama declared in his 2012 State of the Union address. The oft-repeated promise was one of the left's central arguments in favor of Obamacare, a salve for the right’s painful warnings about the destructive effects of the law. And it was all a lie.

As NBC News reported, the Department of Health and Human Services tinkered with the regulations back in July 2010 so that insurance plans that were changed couldn’t be grandfathered in. HHS estimated that this would result in “40 to 67 percent” of customers in the individual insurance market being chucked off their policies. Earlier this year, the cancellation letters were finally mailed. Millions are expected to lose their insurance. More people have had their plans axed in three states than have signed up in the exchanges nationwide.

On Monday, professional sock puppet Jay Carney admitted this, but added that the only policyholders who would lose coverage were those on plans that don’t meet “minimum standards” and are “substandard.” Those buying insurance might have to pay confiscatory premiums, but at least they would know, according to Carney, “that maternity care is covered, that preventive services are covered, that mental health services are covered.” Don’t want those things on your plan? That doesn’t matter because the government does want those things on your plan.

It sounds creepily coercive, and it hints at a knotty dilemma that’s faced progressive thinkers since the dawn of their movement in the 1870s. What happens when, in implementing one of your collectivist schemes, something backfires, some unintended consequence surfaces, and individuals get hurt? For the progressive, the answer is almost always to shrug and carry on. When you believe you’re acting in the service of some greater good, you discover not only that you’re willing to let a few people fall through the cracks, but that individual freedom itself is an impediment to achieving your goals.

From its earliest days, progressivism rejected the plight of the individual in favor of something more national and sweeping. Herbert Croly, perhaps the most influential American progressive thinker, wrote in his book The Promise of American Life, “The higher American patriotism...combines loyalty to historical tradition and precedent with the imaginative projection of an ideal national Promise.” Making that projection a reality meant the economic dreams of bureaucrats would take precedence over individual liberty: “In becoming responsible for the subordination of the individual to the demand of a dominant and constructive national purpose, the American state will in effect be making itself responsible for a morally and socially desirable distribution of wealth.”

One of the more amusing examples of this was the progressive attempt to revitalize farms during the early 1900s. Called the Country Life movement, its adherents, mostly academics and urban activists, sought to alleviate poverty among farmers and modernize rural America. Reformer Kenyon Butterfield, president of the Massachusetts State College of Agriculture, wrote, “Present-day living is so distinctively social, progress is so dependent upon social agencies, social development is so rapid, that if the farmer is to keep his status he must be fully in step with the rest of the army.” There was just one problem: The farmers wanted nothing to do with it. They preferred individual sovereignty and low taxes even if it meant a lesser standard of living. This intransigence led the New York Times to harrumph about “the whole soggy mass of rural conservatism.”

The court case that sanctioned much of the progressive agenda, Wickard v. Filburn, pitted one of those soggy farmers against the designs of the bureaucracy. FDR's government had imposed a ceiling on wheat production in an attempt to drive up prices. In 1941, Roscoe Filburn, a farmer in Ohio, grew more wheat than his progressive overlords permitted. The government demanded that Filburn destroy the excess crop. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the state could indeed trample on Filburn's rights, and greatly expanded the Commerce Clause in the process, justifying future decades of federal interference in the economy.

Progressivism is almost always something imposed from above by those unfamiliar with, and even contemptuous of, the lives they’re affecting, whether farmers or middle-class policyholders. What matters most is, as Croly put it, to “advance the social problem towards a satisfactory solution.”

This way of thinking has defined Obamacare from the beginning, most glaringly with its treatment of Catholics who don’t want to provide birth control services on their insurance plans. After the Church objected to the contraception mandate, many progressives snottily declared that it was time for Catholics to change their beliefs. One commentator said Catholic hospitals should be forced to “follow reasonable, 21st century secular rules.” Those rules, which progressives have invented out of whole cloth, are the solutions to Croly’s social problem, and we’re expected to follow them regardless of our personal beliefs or choices.

The left has responded to the raft of Obamacare cancellation notices by either ignoring them (as I write this, the top story on Salon.com is about why it’s wrong to wear blackface—that most pressing of national issues) or scolding in the usual we-know-better-than-you tone. Think Progress addressed panicking individual policyholders this way: “[T]he regulations in the Affordable Care Act mean that you will not be able to keep what you have. Instead, you’ll have to enroll in something better.” Lucky you. And if you can’t afford it or don’t want it—well, you’re just going to have put your individual preferences on hold in the name of the greater good.

Consoling, isn’t it?

Photos: UPI.

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About the Author

Matt Purple is The American Spectator's assistant managing editor.