Published November 15, 2013
Hundreds of thousands -- perhaps millions -- of people have lost their health care coverage under ObamaCare. And it’s not the botched website or even bureaucratic incompetence (although there’s plenty of the latter to go around) that accounts for the failings of the new health program.
Rather it’s the misguided idea that government should replace the individual and his or her doctor in making health care decisions. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the proper role of government.
Both of us have written books about the greatness of America. We’ve looked at the history of what made America a successful country and are deeply disturbed that the nation has gotten off track.
We are concerned by the vision of America, represented most baldly by ObamaCare, which assumes that only a centralized government can solve vast social and economic problems such as health care.
If our history tells us anything, it’s that such a vision is a mirage.
Government didn’t make America great. It was individual Americans possessing the freedom to make the important decisions in their lives.
They formed voluntary associations and insurance companies to protect themselves from ill health.
They gathered together in churches and community halls to solve problems on their own, without the heavy hand of government.
It was the miracle of the American ethos interacting with limited government and a free economy that made America the wealthiest, most successful nation on earth.
The key assumption was that no government would ever be as effective as a free people in solving complex social and economic problems.
If this were manifest only in programs like ObamaCare, perhaps we could worry less. But it actually is part of a much larger trend. The growth of government across the board is not only drowning the nation in debt, it is killing the free spirit of the American people.
America was once a place where people could pursue the American Dream with encouragement from the government. Government would protect us in our daily lives and make sure the economy was free enough for people to go as far as their energy and talents would take them. Unlike in Europe, Americans did not want government to take care of their every need, or control their decisions.
Another part of American exceptionalism is a willingness to take care of those who truly cannot take care of themselves. This is our duty as Americans and has spawned many charitable organizations and churches. Government does not need to be in control of charity.
What made America different -- exceptional, if you will -- is the historical fact that Americans embraced a culture, economy and system of government that put a premium on freedom. People were free to prove themselves, which meant that some failed while others succeeded.
Freedom of opportunity, not equality of results, set America apart.
Millions of immigrants came to America looking for this freedom and were (and still are) willing to take that chance.
George Santayana once said that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If Americans cannot remember what worked and what didn’t work in their past, they are condemned to lose their future.
It’s not about resurrecting the past. Some things are obviously best left behind. Rather, it’s understanding that America’s unique path to success as a nation depended on very specific things.
We would never have become a great nation had we let others do for us what we, as individuals, felt obligated to do for ourselves.
Freedom was not some abstract principle but the life blood of everyday life. It worked so well because it harnessed a secret about the truth of human nature -- that everyone yearns to be free, prosperous and, yes, secure -- to the service of the greater good.
The people who constructed ObamaCare forgot all this. They overlooked that it is unjust to punish one set of people -- e.g., force them out of their current insurance -- in order to subsidize another.
They forgot that the genius of the American system -- in the past -- was that it was decentralized, allowing people the freedom to experiment in order to solve problems on their own.
In this respect, for example, it would have been far better to have reformed whatever ailed our health care system by providing people with more choices, and to help those who needed it to obtain adequate protection, rather than have the government dictate those choices for them – and denouncing as “substandard” the choices many had freely made.
But that would have required President Obama to change his world view and his understanding of American history.
We can turn America around if we focus on what made the country great in the first place: an abiding faith in the individual and respect for his or her freedom; the beliefs that the best government is one that governs least and that the bonds of trust that bind civil society together are still the very things that made our freedom possible.
Remembering that is how we get America back to great.