When it comes to SCHIP, even some on the right have lost their moral compass - having fallen victim, perhaps, to the notion that if it involves "the children" then they should abandon both principle and common sense. But with the left's attempt to expand medical entitlement benefits to the middle class, this is no time for compromise. For even compromise will work toward their ultimate goal of incrementally socializing healthcare.
Most opponents of SCHIP expansion have been mired in the pragmatics of politics, the minutiae of markets, or the defensive posturing that comes when engaging a majority power that uses moralistic soundbites like daisycutters. What we have failed to realize, however, is that we have the moral case. Allow me to explain.
Intentions and Actions
Mens Rea is the term folks in criminal law use when talking about the intention behind a criminal act. In other words, the act alone does not make a person guilty; he must also have a "guilty mind." So, for example, if Vice President Cheney had accidentally killed his friend in a hunting accident (rather than merely wounding him), we certainly wouldn't say he is a murderer. We would have to show that Cheney had some motive, or possess some evidence that he was acting with malice.
Can't something similar be said about a good act? That is, an act of kindness, benevolence, or charity? Is someone doing a moral good if there is no intention to do good behind the act—i.e. a "good mind"? Most reasonable people would say no. If a five-dollar bill falls out of my pocket into the hands of a beggar as I dig for my transit card, I haven't done anything good. If someone points a gun at me, takes the five, and gives it to the beggar, I still haven't satisfied any moral obligation I may have to the poor (much less the middle class). And that's precisely why we should be suspicious of any claim that "we" or "society" has a moral obligation to provide healthcare for the middle class.
Not only is the government not society, but society is merely an agglomeration of individuals. Societies cannot have moral obligations any more than they can tell the truth Only individuals can. (As Arnold Kling says, " Lose the we.") Indeed, if a majority in Congress were to expand SCHIP (Children's Medicaid) to families making from $60,000 to $80,000 per year, the state would simply be stripping certain people in society of resources and redistributing said resources to others—others who don't need them by definition (read: they aren't poor). And the IRS becomes our moral proxy?
It's not merely that the government would be stripping people of resources, but of the very moral impetus from which 'being good' arises. By expanding any entitlement, the government is not somehow helping people carry out their moral duties. One's internal sense of goodness is the sense upon which the very notion of moral responsibility rests. By expanding Medicaid, the government would be removing part of that moral sense. Perhaps worse, the government would be absolving people who have means of their responsibility to provide for their own children, while foisting that duty upon those who never asked for it. And there is nothing moral whatsoever in that.
The left is attempting not only to co-opt the language of morality, but to do so with the up-is-down postmodern rhetoric that makes middle class people the "working poor" and calls coercive redistribution to them a "moral duty". But one can't simply vote away the onus of responsibility for the less fortunate to Washington.
Max Borders is a contributing editor to TCSDaily, an adjunct scholar for the NCPA. He blogs here.