Former America President, Ronald Reagan, once remarked that the nine
most terrifying words in the English language are: “I'm from the
government and I'm here to help.”
Reagan understood an important principle: as soon a government becomes benevolent, the totalitarian temptation is sure to be lurking near.
Obama, on the other hand, appears to have taken Reagan’s terrifying phrase as a template rather than a warning. The latest example of the President’s “I’m-here-to-help” enthusiasm occurred on 23 March, 2010 when he signed into law a bill requiring every individual to have or buy health insurance coverage.
Putting the Nail in the Coffin of the Private Insurance Industry
The President used the democratic majority in Congress to zip the 2010 Healthcare Reform Bill to completion, despite concerns that it could spell the death knell to America’s private insurance industry.
Beginning in 2014, the bill prohibits private insurance companies from refusing applicants with pre-existing conditions. While this seems like a magnanimous gesture, Economist Peter Schiff has pointed out that it removes the necessity for healthy people to buy insurance. After all, what is the point of a healthy person buying expensive premiums when he can just wait and purchase insurance when he needs it?
Anticipating this, the Healthcare Reform Bill attempts to create an incentive for healthy people to buy insurance. The incentive is that if you can afford health insurance and choose not to buy it will get penalized (those who can’t afford health insurance get it paid for by Uncle Sam). However, the penalty is a mere trifle compared to the costs of annual insurance premiums. As soon as people realize this, millions will gladly pay government the fine in order to wait and purchase insurance when they need it. The problem here should be obvious: private insurance companies cannot survive if all their policyholders are filing claims. It is those who are healthy – who don’t need to make a claim – who make it possible for the companies to survive. As millions of healthy people opt out from paying expensive premiums until they need it, the private insurance companies cannot help but eventually face bankruptcy. If and when that does happen, Schiff has anticipated the result: “our courageous leaders could ride to the rescue with a nationalized, single-payer system.”
Readers in the UK, where nationalized health insurance has become an unquestioned fixture, may wonder what all the fuss is about. However, it is worth noting that the American system of government functions very differently to that of Britain. In the United States, it is not good enough for a law to simply be consistent with the Constitution. The founders of America, for better or worse, invented a system far more radical. They specified that the federal government could only pass laws in those areas where the Constitution had specifically delegated power to it. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forms part of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, provides that the powers not granted to the national government by the constitution, nor prohibited to the states by the constitution, are matters reserved for the individual states to make decisions about.
Now here’s the rub: since the enumerated powers given to the national government by the constitution do not include the authority to fine people for not purchasing health care, many constitutional scholars have argued that the “individual mandate” (the part of the bill which requires everyone to buy insurance) is unconstitutional.
The President’s team has attempted to counter the force of this argument by pointed to the commerce clause in the Constitution. This clause grants Congress the power “to regulate commerce . . . among the several states." This clause, according to Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, gives the federal government “inherent authority” to mandate coverage.
The problem is that historically insurance contracts have not been considered part of “commerce.” Commerce covers the buying, selling and transportation of merchandise. But even if the Constitution’s commerce clause could be argued to include the economic activity of insurance contracts, Obama’s bill goes even further. Indeed, by criminalizing those who refuse to buy medical coverage, it extends federal jurisdiction not just to economic activity, but to economic inactivity. By simply being alive and doing nothing, a person comes under the rubric of federal control and can be penalized for not buying health insurance.
Just think about that for a moment. As soon as the government’s control of commerce is extended to include the absence of commerce (if that sounds convoluted it’s because it is), then there is almost no limit to the amount of federal interference that can be justified. Randy E. Barnett, professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, commented on the totalitarian implications of this paradigm shift, pointing out that
“While Congress has used its taxing power to fund Social Security and Medicare, never before has it used its commerce power to mandate that an individual person engage in an economic transaction with a private company. …Even during World War II, the federal government did not mandate that individual citizens purchase war bonds. If you choose to drive a car, then maybe you can be made to buy insurance against the possibility of inflicting harm on others. But making you buy insurance merely because you are alive is a claim of power from which many Americans instinctively shrink.”
Challenges From the States
Fourteen states have prepared to file law suits challenging the constitutionality of the new legislation, while some have even threatened to invoke a rare and highly controversial procedure known as nullification. Nullification is the process whereby an individual state declares that a federal law is void and inoperative within the boundaries of that state.
Still other states have pre-empted the federal bill by passing laws of their own declaring it illegal for the government to require individuals to purchase health insurance.
Ultimately, it will be the American courts that will decide whether Obama’s new plan is constitutional.
Robbing the Poor
A frequent strategy of governments with totalitarian aspirations is to offer a solution to a problem they have themselves concocted. The 2010 Healthcare Reform Bill is no exception. Affordable health insurance has been out of the reach of so many low-income Americans precisely because the government has ignored the principal causes of sky rocketing medical prices. This includes regulatory bans of insurance competition, an out-of-control medical malpractice industry, federal programs and subsidies, a tax code that favours a third-party payment system (alienating the patient from the cost of his care) and a number of other causes that work to drive up the prices of insurance.
Instead of helping the poor by addressing these problems, the reform bill actually makes matters worse for low-income families. Consider that since government spending already exceeds government revenue, this new multi-trillion dollar monstrosity will have to be financed by pumping unprecedented levels of debt money and newly created fiat currency into the economy. Every time this happens, the value of money already in circulation is devalued, resulting in higher prices since every new dollar is worth slightly less. Only government is able to benefit from this type of hidden tax, since it is able to use the new money before the inflationary consequences are realised. By the time the new money has trickled down to the poor or those on fixed wages, it has already lost its value. Concerned to protect the needy from this type of economic abuse, the Lord forbad this type of tampering with the monetary system. As Gary DeMar has pointed out,
“Putting dollars into circulation dilutes the value of existing money, in the same way that water dilutes wine and dross cheapens silver (Isa. 1:22). Israel was indicted by God because of these actions. Their rulers were described as “rebels,” “companions of thieves” (1:23). Their economic policies had the effect of hurting orphans and widows (1:23).”
Policing the Borders of Thought
In the following articles I have suggested further ways that nationalized health care might threaten American freedom.
We should certainly be concerned about the subtle erosion of liberty implicated by nationalized health insurance. At the same time, however, it is important to remember that this is simply one example among dozens of totalitarian creep.
One of the hallmarks of a totalitarian regimes is that the power of the state begins to be used as a tool for suppressing dissenting political views. In America the infrastructure for policing the political views of citizens is already substantially in place. Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security, charged with preventing terrorist attacks, has begun focusing its attention, not just on what Americans are doing, but on what they are thinking.
Consider the Department’s report Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment. This report, issued last Spring by the Obama administration, urges the Department of Homeland Security to be on guard against what they term ‘Rightwing extremists.” Aimed at preventing violence, the information in the report was disseminated to federal, state and local counterterrorism and law enforcement officials “so they may effectively deter, prevent, pre-empt, or respond to terrorist attacks against the United States.”
What is interesting is that “rightwing extremism” is not limited to gun-toting militia members who want to kill Jews and blacks. Any American can fall under the Department’s definition of a “Rightwing extremist” merely by rejecting Big Government, advocating states’ rights or being pro-life.
I quote from the report. “Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups)…” So far so good. Hate-oriented groups have historically provided a breeding ground for violence. But let’s read on: “and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”
Did you catch that? The Department of Homeland Security has issued a warning against states’ rights activists, lumping such people in the same camp as domestic terrorists. And if you are dedicated to a single issue like opposition to abortion, that also apparently qualifies you as a potential terrorist threat.
This is nothing new. Homeland Security has long been interested in policing opinion. In 1979, Homeland Security developed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Originally conceived as a means for coordinating disaster recovery efforts in cases where local or state resources have been overwhelmed, FEMA has gradually been handed over an array of totalitarian powers, which need only a “national emergency” to be activated.
FEMA is even interested in policing thought. In 1983, Frank Salzedo, then chief of FEMA's Civil Security Division, stated that he saw FEMA's role as a "new frontier in the…prevention of dissident groups from gaining access to U.S. opinion, or a global audience in times of crisis.”
What type of “U.S. opinion” is FEMA interested in preventing? If the report issued by the Missouri Information Analysis Center (the center is run by the Department of Homeland Security) was anything to go by, the threats to national security include those who support conservative candidates like Ron Paul or 3rd party political candidates.
By now you should be getting the picture: those who are too conservative are considered a threat to America’s domestic integrity. (For more about thought police, click here.)
Government by Emergency
Classical Greece and Rome had a tradition of appointing a dictator during times of national emergency. After the crisis finished, the dictator would step down so that government could return to normal, usually to some form republic or oligarchy. Following this tradition, modern leaders frequently appeal to times of real or alleged 'crisis' to persuade the populace to entrust them with powers that would normally be distributed. (See my article Why Obama needs Crisis)
However, there is a crucial difference. As I pointed out in my article Swine flu creates 'national emergency' of a different sort, during times of national crisis the ancients would be ruled by a person, whereas we are ruled by laws rather than people. The consequence of this is that the augmented power required by a crisis has to first be legitimized by legislation. And here's the rub: the legislation does not step down after the crisis is over like the classical dictator did. In this way, an entire slough of totalitarian legislation can be built up over the years, like barnacles clinging to a ship, gradually changing the face of society from one of freedom to one of enslavement. Just consider the following list of executive orders that Presidents have issued to cope with “emergency” situations:
• Executive Order #11000: Seizure of all American people for work forces under federal supervision including the splitting of families if the government finds it necessary. • Executive Order #11001: Seizure of all health, education and welfare facilities, public and private.
Totalitarian creep should concern us all, but first we must stop thinking of totalitarianism solely in terms of things like steel fences and ID checkpoints. That is where totalitarianism end but it is not where it starts. Totalitarianism, at least in the modern west, has traditionally begun with leaders who are human enough to empathize with our needs and shrewd enough to fulfill those needs as soon as sufficient power is entrusted to them.
When totalitarianism does arrive, it arrives as the concomitant of a population that has been oriented to view the state as benefactor and protector, even as the great mother. (See my article Maternal Statecraft). When Mussolini first coined the term “totalitarianism” it was not a pejorative slur, nor was it something connoting tyranny. Rather, he used the word to refer to a humane society in which everyone was taken care of and looked after by a state which encompassed all of life within its grasp.
Even before he was elected President, Obama identified himself with a type of “caring totalitarianism” of Mussolini. That is why the Obama administration has made clear that they never want a good crisis to go to waste. Times of crisis are opportunities for the government with totalitarian aspirations if the populace can be convinced that the needs of the crisis can only be addressed by the augmentation of power. If the people have already been oriented to view their leader as caring, they will gladly yield up their liberty for the security he promises to bring. That is why, last November when I defended my decision not to vote for Obama, my reasons were based, not in his policy, but in his compassion. Obama is just caring enough to overcome any obstacle, even the constitution itself, if he believes he is truly helping the American people. And that, my friends, is precisely why his health care proposal is so dangerous.
A shorter version of this article will be appearing in the monthly
magazine of Christian Voice , a UK ministry whose website is