Gluttons for Punishment - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Gluttons for Punishment

Like a parrot in a pet store, the Bernie Sanders faithful have the same refrain for the suggestion that America can’t, or at least shouldn’t be, a socialist country. In many ways, they say, “it already is. Bok!”

While we are plenty removed from pure socialism (and pure capitalism for that matter), the statement isn’t altogether untrue. Like most complex political arguments there is a fair bit of semantics involved, but there is also little denying that some of America’s costliest programs are about as socialist in nature as America gets. 

It seems the debate regarding Mr. Sanders’ philosophy provides that rare case in which both sides are right: America is definitely somewhat socialist, and it definitely shouldn’t be.

Uncle Sam’s forays into leftist economic principles have generally been popular, precisely because they have become, to borrow Marx’s phrase, the opiate of the masses—habit forming, expensive measures more designed for short-term political highs than long-term solvency.

There are plenty of examples, but let’s begin where it all started: Social Security. This retirement insurance is now 32 percent underfunded. Even better (and by that I mean worse), contributors are now receiving less than they paid in. Simply put, Social Security is putting the nation, and its workers, deeper and deeper in debt. It doesn’t take Warren Buffet to figure out that this New Deal dinosaur is a Bad Deal for the country.

But it pales in comparison to government attempts to regulate healthcare. Perhaps nothing has made America sicker than the country’s dalliances with socialist-style medical programs.

Consider the gruesome twosome, Medicare and Medicaid. A whopping ten percent of the former’s budget is lost to “waste, abuse, and fraud,” while the latter syphons more from states each and every year—from nine percent to 20 percent since 1989. And like Social Security these two programs are so entrenched that overhauling or doing away with them is now all but impossible. Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked.

How else can one explain the Affordable Care Act, in which the first sitting President forced to deny being a socialist made it his signature accomplishment to push through what will prove to be one of the largest redistributive tax hikes in American history. 

While the jury is still out on the costs and benefits of the ACA, early signs are far from promising. For starters, the White House’s latest projection for enrollees as of 2016 is half that of the Congressional Budget Office’s.

Worse yet, ten of the 23 health insurance co-ops (more than 40 percent) formed in response to the ACA are now closed. And worse still, the program isn’t attracting the young and healthy demographic necessary to sustain it.

If there is anything positive about the ACA, it’s that it may fail fairly quickly. If only we could say the same for the rest.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other government health programs, combined with welfare and other entitlements and interest on the federal debt, consumed two-thirds of the federal budget in 2014—American socialism at its finest.

Well, not quite. Enter the Veterans Health Administration, the United States’ most “socialist” healthcare experiment to date, and its most disastrous. Following a publicized string of tragedies at various VA locations, Congressional hearings revealed a laundry list of gut-wrenching failures, from rejecting the mentally ill for not having an appointment to covering up an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease to infecting at least 18 patients with HIV by reusing disposable supplies.

We aren’t talking numbers when it comes to the VA, we are talking dead bodies. The men and women that risked their lives and limbs for this country have been abandoned by their quasi-socialist government at their most vulnerable moments.

But it didn’t have to be this way. Surely the world’s most powerful economy can afford to take care of its old and sick while not penalizing its young and healthy for generations to come. Of course we can, if we don’t neglect the ideals of our founding for political expediency. The people dependent on these programs are obviously not at fault, because they have no choice. The government decided for them, and for generations to come.

Yet as Sanders’ meteoric rise demonstrates, despite the skyrocketing costs, subpar service, and climbing body counts, we are gluttons for punishment.

It’s as if we go to the same terrible restaurant week after week to pay exorbitant prices for microwaved potatoes and overcooked steaks when the real deal is sitting half empty just around the corner. It might not be cheap either, but at least they can nail a medium rare.

Of course, that would require knowing our own neighborhood. You see, ignoring wonky analyses is one thing; after all, most of us aren’t sadistic enough to mull over government program projections as a reflection of GDP for fun. But ignoring the evidence piling up in our own backyards is an entirely different matter.

The fates of Rust Belt cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Baltimore are plain for all to see.

Now contrast these liberal Leviathans with newer, more dynamic urban centers like Austin, Nashville, and Charlotte, all located in right-to-work states where organized labor, one of America’s great “socialist” experiments, has been defanged. In fact, nine of the 12 fastest growing cities are located in right-to-work states, further proof that our socialist tendencies, no matter how tempting, are almost always ill-fated.

And yet Sanders’ popularity shows no signs of slowing down. But why?

The simplest explanation is that increased entitlements only lead to an increasingly entitled citizenry, one that prefers to point clean fingers rather than get its hands dirty. It is exponentially simpler to blame others for their success than to create your own.

And all the facts in the world can’t change that.

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