Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ideology and Reality

Paul Ryan has been more candid than many other Republicans about the implications of his governing philosophy. The budget plan his office put forth is draconian in its dismantling of the welfare state and leaving senior citizens to their own devices when it comes to health care, but at least it’s up front about that. No “keep the government out of Medicare” posturing here; he’d just as soon see Medicare abolished. Say what you will about the tenets of Paul Ryan’s budget, at least it’s an ethos.

Less respectable is the rhetoric in his House debate speech before the health care vote, that the reform bill is paternalistic, threatens freedom, makes people more dependent on government. At no point did he discuss the practical realities this bill is addressing: millions are uninsured, often due to outrageous costs and cruel policies that exclude the people who need insurance the most. This bill will solve those problems, albeit imperfectly. Yet all that Ryan can focus on is abstract notions of “freedom.” Freedom of what? To what? To choose whether or not to have insurance? The uninsured will end up being paid for by the rest of us when something goes wrong and they need emergency care anyway, so why not bring them into the system and in one swoop spread the costs around and lower them by allowing us to deal with illnesses before they become more dangerous and expensive?

A good faith disagreement between liberals and conservatives is said to be a difference in approach. We all agree there’s a problem, we just differ in the methods to remedy them. Ryan says, essentially, that this legislation is a solution in search of a problem. And that’s simply not true. As Pelosi said: “The status quo does not work for enough people.” Liberal and conservative ideas are supposed to be a means to an end—presumably, human welfare and happiness. Ryan and the Republicans, by all appearances, have made conservative ideas an end unto themselves, disconnected from all real-world consequence.

(As I wrote this earlier tonight, I watched Ezra Klein make virtually the same point on MSNBC, in about 30 seconds. That’s why he gets paid to do this, I suppose.)

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