Paul Krugman writes that the Republicans have dusted off an old argument from years ago to block the agenda of President Obama and the Democrats. Instead of arguing the merits of, say, expanding Medicaid to people who need it, they now say that giving people a guarantee that they will have health insurance is an assault on freedom.
Conservatives love, for example, to quote from a stirring speech Reagan gave in 1961, in which he warned of a grim future unless patriots took a stand. (Liz Cheney used it in a Wall Street Journal op-ed article just a few days ago.) “If you and I don’t do this,” Reagan declared, “then you and I may well spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” What you might not guess from the lofty language is that “this” — the heroic act Reagan was calling on his listeners to perform — was a concerted effort to block the enactment of Medicare.
These days, conservatives make very similar arguments against Obamacare. For example, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has called it the “greatest assault on freedom in our lifetime.” And this kind of rhetoric matters, because when it comes to the main obstacle now remaining to more or less universal health coverage — the reluctance of Republican governors to allow the Medicaid expansion that is a key part of reform — it’s pretty much all the right has.
They trot out this pony for lots of other things, too. Universal background checks and liability insurance for gun owners shreds the Second Amendment. Giving free or reduced lunches to impoverished children takes away the parents’ rights to feed their children the way they see fit. Banning interracial marriage is an assault on the rights of states to protect their own traditions, and of course the one we’ve been hearing a lot of recently, permitting marriage equality is a blatant attempt to muzzle the freedom of the “religious” to bully and harass the LGBT community.
David Brooks’ column last week where he said that granting gays more freedom actually meant less was a caricature of the argument, and this is how we know that they’re getting down to the fumes. When they have to tell you that more is actually less and up is actually down; that more choice for more people is tyranny and that finding a way to stop a madman from sweeping a kindergarten with 154 bullets in less than five minutes is the last step before Stalinism, it makes you wonder at what point will it dawn on them how utterly contemptuous of freedom they really are.