Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Health Care, Pesach, and the Real Meaning of Freedom

With their proclamations of sovereignty and passage of the Idaho Health Freedom Act, which purports to exempt our state from federally-mandated health care reform, our governor and legislature have reduced Idaho to the level of a petulant child whining to Washington, “You’re not the boss of me!”

This position may curry favor with anti-government zealots, but it is also legally and ethically wrong-headed, and fighting it will squander enormous resources. The US constitution clearly grants the federal government the power to write laws that are binding on all fifty states. In 1861, the Confederacy challenged that authority—and lost when the Civil War ended with their unconditional surrender at Appomattox. The history is telling because ever since then, efforts to re-vivify the old states’ rights argument have consistently been—to borrow a phrase from Samuel Johnson—the last refuge of scoundrels. Idaho Republicans have now cast their lot with the dubious company of ante-bellum slave-holders and Jim Crow southern segregationists. Now, as then, assertions of state sovereignty have nothing to do with real freedom and everything to do with maintaining an unjust and oppressive status quo.

Why has this always been the case? Because genuine freedom is not about the childish notion that one can do whatever one desires, regardless of the cost. My Jewish tradition speaks out of a deeper understanding of liberation in this season. Our festival of Passover marks our deliverance from Egyptian bondage—but we regard that exodus as merely the first step of the journey rather than the final goal. We remind ourselves of this by counting the omer, the seven weeks that separate Passover and Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. This connection asserts that freedom does not find its fulfillment until we accept the responsibility to one another and the rest of God’s creation that is at the heart of Torah’s teachings.

By this same logic, the federal government can and should require individuals to purchase health insurance for the same reason that states require drivers to buy auto insurance: we are part of a common weal, and the welfare of any one citizen affects the welfare of us all. Mandating that those who are healthy and can afford to pay must do so is the only way to create a pool large enough to cover the needs of those who are unable to afford insurance on their own. This is our moral obligation because we are, as the Bible consistently teaches, our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

An important Talmudic teaching describes the classic libertarian attitude of “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” as the morality of Sodom. Indeed, the sin of Sodom has nothing to do with sexuality (as many anti-gay groups would have it) and everything to do with selfishness and the tyranny of valuing individual wealth over social responsibility. As the prophet Ezekiel taught: “Only this was the sin of your sister Sodom: arrogance! She had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquility, yet she did not support the poor and the needy. . . and so I removed them, as you saw.”

Alas, here in Idaho, three thousand years later, too little has changed. The so-called “Idaho Health Care Freedom Act” only entrenches our place among tantrum-throwing toddlers, selfish sinners of Sodom, and spiteful segregationists. Is this really the kind of company our governor and legislature wish to keep?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good work,

In your service always, thank god you need not pretend further.

Allah is good