If the Other Party Took Power

Maggie Mahar asks a good question in Sunday’s Washington Post:

If you’re a progressive like me, and you’re upset by the Stupak amendment, which bars federally subsidized insurance from covering abortions, consider this: What if we had a single-payer health-care system and someone like Jeb Bush or Sarah Palin were running the country?

She worries that if Republicans were in charge of government-run health care, they might not stop with abortion. They might try to limit government-paid access to birth control, fertility treatments, or end-of-life care. They might even (gasp) try to require co-pays to get people to take some responsibility for their health-care decisions. She goes on:

I strongly support increasing our government’s involvement in the health-care system by including a public option in the reform package. I believe that if Congress passes legislation that includes a public option, that option will be stronger than many pundits suggest. Such a plan could help lower costs while lifting the quality of care, and would provide serious competition to private insurers.

But I’m also wary that in four or eight years, someone else – someone less sympathetic to my views – may be in the White House. And conservatives could once again control Congress. So I am relieved that we don’t seem to be headed toward a single-payer system. We simply cannot count on “good government” overseeing our health care. One never knows who the American people will choose to elect. As a progressive, I have been stunned by the people’s pick more than once in the past 30 years. Democracy offers choices but makes no promises.

So I want to hedge my bets. I want alternative insurance options, especially from nonprofits such as Kaiser Permanente. And I don’t want to find myself locked into an insurance plan run by conservatives – or Democrats – who feel they have a right to impose their religious beliefs on my access to care.

It’s a good point. I made the same point a week ago in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

If you still have warm feelings toward Obama and his good intentions, ask yourself this: Will you feel comfortable one day when the appointees of President Romney or President Palin are exercising unconstitutional, unauthorized, unreviewable authority to restructure the economy the way they see fit?

And Bob Levy made the same point to Republicans when they were in power:

advocates of expanded executive power remind civil libertarians that President Bush is an honorable man who understands that the Constitution is made of more than tissue paper. That argument is simply not persuasive - even to those who fervently share its underlying premise. The policies that are put in place by this administration are precedent-setting. Bush supporters need to reflect on the same powers in the hands of his predecessor or his successors.

Indeed, because Republicans are often known as the Stupid Party, and not without reason, I tried to warn them about giving more power to the government while President Clinton was in office:

Let’s not forget that if, say, Coats’s Maternity Shelter Act were implemented next year, Donna Shalala, the secretary of health and human services, would be charged with implementing it. She might appoint HUD assistant secretary Andrew Cuomo to run it, or maybe unemployed ex-congressman Mel Reynolds, or maybe just some Harvard professor who thinks single motherhood is a viable lifestyle option for poor young women. One reason conservatives shouldn’t set up well-intentioned government programs is that they won’t always be in power to run them.

But they never listen. When the Republicans were in power, they brushed aside reminders that some day a Democratic president would be exercising the vast powers that Bush was accumulating in the White House. And when Democrats are in power, they ignore the risks of giving more power to a federal government that will one day be run by conservatives. And then both sides are appalled by the uses that are made of those powers when that day comes.

I guess that’s why the first section of The Libertarian Reader is titled “Skepticism about Power.”