E.J. Dionne condemns the “new nullifiers,” such as Ken Cuccinelli, who as Virginia’s Attorney General has filed suit challenging the applicability of the new Health-care bill in Virginia. In anticipation of the Health Care bill’s passage, Virginia passed state legislation that would exempt its citizens from being required by federal law to purchase insurance. Along with Cuccinelli’s suit, there has been a suit filed by a dozen other States’ AGs to challenge the constitutionality of the bill.
Two quick points:
1. Dionne condemns the efforts of these “new nullifiers” by comparing them to South Carolina Governor Robert Y. Hayne, whose arguments anticipated by only two decades similar arguments by S.C. Senator John C. Calhoun. What would be changed, if anything, in Dionne’s argument if instead he were to have referred back to the original justifications for a kind of nullification – or at least protest by the states – namely the “interposition” justified by none other than James Madison (“Father of the Constitution”) and Thomas Jefferson, in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts? It has long been the tactic of anyone disagreeing with efforts by the States to resist encroachments of the Federal Government to invoke the specter of racism and segregation. What is elided is that original arguments for “interposition” were advanced in defense of liberty.
2. All that said, the “debate” we are seeing is a canard, a debate over means, not ends. “Conservatives” object to government imposition of insurance mandates, the creation of national health-care system administered by the Government. Their answer? Opening competition by private actors over state lines, thus creating a national health-care system effectively administered by large-scale insurance companies which will be advantaged by economies of scale. In either case, individuals will be statistics, and faceless bureaucrats of one sort or another will decide their fates.
This “debate” takes place in the backdrop of a set of deeper beliefs that pre-determine its outcome. First, we know that we are not likely to live in places for any appreciable length of time, so we require fungibility of care. This means that we come to expect impersonal care, and know that we will necessarily be treated as data. The question is, which data-keeper will treat us? We are treated as parts, not wholes, and so our illnesses are treated as discrete occurrences, not as part of a treatment that cares for the human creature in all of our personal wholeness, from diet to exercise to the essential belief that we belong somewhere among particular people. One argument never advanced in the health-care “debate” was that it would be invaluable to strengthen communities. The best health-care provider is the local family doctor who knows the general health – and beyond that, has a broader personal knowledge – of each person, from cradle to grave. The backdrop of the health-care debate was that we have rejected that option because of our addiction to mobility and its attendant “restlessness,” so that the debate all along was over means, not ends.
It follows that we need some kind of provider because generations no longer care for each other. Above all, children no longer care for their parents as they age and die, so we need to farm out that activity to another caretaker. That costs a lot of money. Further, we know deep in our bones that we live in a society in which upon our deaths we will be almost instantly forgotten. Whether one believes in an afterlife or not, in previous times, an afterlife was at least assured through the memory of successive generations who would remember and tend the legacy of departed ancestors. Today, all we have is the life we now live – and our dignity demands, if nothing else, that it be extended as long as possible, by whatever means. Lastly, we have come to define liberty as “the endless power after power that ceaseth only in death.” By that definition, death is the worst thing imaginable. We all live in the shadow of Hobbes, and have accepted that the basic motivation that animates us is fear of death. The character Nathan Coulter in Wendell Berry’s novel Hannah Coulter – who, learning of his terminal illness, refuses an intensive treatment of radiation therapy in order to die at home – is incomprehensible to us. In the light of these facts about ourselves, there is no fundamental disagreement that health and longevity are inalienable rights. The only question worthy of debate is who shall provide it – State-supported corporatism or corporate-supported Statism.