Think, in particular, of the children.
The day after the debate, the Census Bureau released its latest estimates on income, poverty and health insurance. The overall picture was terrible: the weak economy continues to wreak havoc on American lives. One relatively bright spot, however, was health care for children: the percentage of children without health coverage was lower in 2010 than before the recession, largely thanks to the 2009 expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-chip.
And the reason S-chip was expanded in 2009 but not earlier was, of course, that former President George W. Bush blocked earlier attempts to cover more children — to the cheers of many on the right. Did I mention that one in six children in Texas lacks health insurance, the second-highest rate in the nation?
So the freedom to die extends, in practice, to children and the unlucky as well as the improvident. And the right’s embrace of that notion signals an important shift in the nature of American politics.
In the past, conservatives accepted the need for a government-provided safety net on humanitarian grounds. Don’t take it from me, take it from Friedrich Hayek, the conservative intellectual hero, who specifically declared in “The Road to Serfdom” his support for “a comprehensive system of social insurance” to protect citizens against “the common hazards of life,” and singled out health in particular.
Given the agreed-upon desirability of protecting citizens against the worst, the question then became one of costs and benefits — and health care was one of those areas where even conservatives used to be willing to accept government intervention in the name of compassion, given the clear evidence that covering the uninsured would not, in fact, cost very much money. As many observers have pointed out, the Obama health care plan was largely based on past Republican plans, and is virtually identical to Mitt Romney’s health reform in Massachusetts.
Now, however, compassion is out of fashion — indeed, lack of compassion has become a matter of principle, at least among the G.O.P.’s base.
And what this means is that modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society we’ve had for the past three generations — that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the “common hazards of life” through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.