Friends, Romans, countrymen

Audience reaction at the GOP debate.

Ron Paul is a fringe candidate, and even he said (inconsistently) “No” to Wolf Blitzer’s follow-up question in the latest GOP candidate debate, about a hypothetical uninsured man needing six months’ intensive care:

Are you saying that society should just let him die?

But some in the audience shouted “Yes!”

Update: Another link. This clip is longer and doesn’t cut off Paul’s actual vapid reply. Makes no difference to my point.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

26 thoughts on “Friends, Romans, countrymen”

  1. Is there any demographic information on the people attending the debates? Usually audiences are party establishment, but this far out from the election it could simply be that no one cares except the wingnuts.

  2. This whole comedy bit with Uncle Paul bring blitzed by Wolf’s hypothetical plays completely into the knife hand of the Democrats.
    Unfortunately I heard very few Democrats, and never the President, make the point that wins the day with the American public:

    Either society lets the 30 year old die…
    Or society picks up his tab and the taxpayers pay…
    Or society forces him to pay into a health insurance system.

    Those are your three choices.
    And since most of us don’t want to live in a society where people are just allowed to die there are only two choices…
    And so here comes the knife hand: So what is it going to be? Are we are going to allow 30 year olds to leech off the taxpayers or force them to pay?
    The republicans favor the freedom to sponge and leech off the taxpayers, Obamacare makes us all responsible citizens.

    Stick a fork in it.
    That’s the argument that cooks the Republican goose…
    But you’ll have to wait for hell’s oven to freeze over before you’ll hear a Democratic slice and dice with it….

    If society

  3. James:
    From the very short clip on the link, it appears that Ron Paul was being cheered and applauded by the audience in his statements about individual responsibility; the same clip was cut off too early to get a good sense of the magnitude of the “yes” response to the question about whether the man should be allowed to die. Maybe two or three extra seconds would have helped to allow a comparison; however, the volume of the “yes” seemed to be much less than the applause from a few seconds earlier when Ron Paul was talking about the hypothetical man’s expectation that the government will take care of him.

  4. Mr. Whitney,
    I could not disagree more about the timing. To me it was entirely clear that those two or three individuals in the audience shouted yes in response to Mr. Blitzer’s question.

  5. Isn’t “yes” an accurate description of our current policy? people can and do die without insurance, and just last week Grady hospital in Atlanta struck a last minute deal to avoid killing 21 illegal immigrants on dialysis.

    I don’t think “yes” is a morally correct answer, but I don’t think we are being honest with ourselves as a nation if we think it is a fringe or wingnut position rather than a practical reality that most Americans don’t want to acknowledge.

  6. Davis: People can and do die without insurance, but (in most jurisdictions at least) it’s not a policy goal. The question was a normative one.

  7. Wolf Blitzer asked more than one question of Ron Paul. The question of whether the man should be allowed to die came at the very end of the clip, and I still cannot tell whether the enthusiastic “yes” response came from two or three individuals or from two or three hundred, because the audience response was cut off too soon. Maybe someone who saw the entire show can tell us if the affirmative sentiment was widespread in the audience.

    It does seem clear that if the Tea party comes to power, it will govern in an authoritarian manner. They are willing to characterize a decision by the Fed chairman as a type of capital crime. Criminalization of a policy matter is the mark of a tyrant.

    Same problem occurs with Huntsman’s calling Perry’s border policy “treasonable.” Perhaps he meant “reasonable.” That would make more sense.

  8. Koreyel,
    There is a fourth alternative: that society pay for care and stick the 30-year old with the full bill. (Not that this is my preferred alternative–I’m just fine with the mandate. But in the interests of complete alternatives, I thought I would throw it in.)

  9. @ Davis,

    We Americans have a very ambivalent societal attitude towards health care finance. On one hand, we want everyone to be responsible and self-sufficient in paying for their health care. In other words, either have deep pockets yourself or access to someone elses deep pockets. Say, an insurance company. But insurance companies don’t care to allow people to access their deep pockets. So the insurance companies begin writing policies that restrict the insured’s access: sending women home from the labor and delivery suite before they’ve had a chance to recover from giving birth. Providers get into the act too: private hospitals used to routinely turf uninsured patients to a public hospital.

    Of course, this gave rise to outrage on the part of citizens and fauxtrage from legislators. The legislators responded with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which forbids providers from turfing medically indigent patients and told insurance companies they were too going to allow new moms to have a rest before they head home.

    So now the medically indigent have a means of indirectly tapping into the public purse via the ER, if they have a critical medical problem. EMTALA requires that hospitals that accept Federal Funds (i.e., Medicare) stabilize ER patients before releasing or transferring them.

    So current policy isn’t quite let them die. Current policy is more like, “Let them get so sick that they are in danger of dying (or losing a limb or function), then we’ll force providers to provide free (to the patient) treatment at the most expensive point of contact.”

    The whole thing is insane, and Koreyel is right, there are three alternatives. Let ’em die, let ’em free ride, or get them into the system. The real shame is that the system we need to get them into is so dysfunctional.

  10. @Ebenezer Scrooge:

    There isn’t a fourth alternative. If the person needs life-saving medical care and doesn’t already have insurance then, with maybe a few eccentric wealthy exceptions (not enough to be noticeable at the level of the whole system), they can’t afford the cost of their own medical care. And in at least a substantial fraction of cases, wouldn’t be able to afford that care even if you abolish bankruptcy and garnished their wages for the rest of their life and/or re-established debtor’s prisons.

  11. What koreyel said.

    The same people who inveighed against motorcycle helmet laws want to indulge in stark, bitter, futile outrage against BOTH: the moral lapses of people who don’t pay for health insurance AND the moral lapses of people who won’t let other people get away with not paying for health insurance by mandating it (eg in PPACA).

    I suspect they just really *enjoy* stark, bitter, futile moral outrage.

    Mr. Scrooge,

    I doubt the Ron Paul fanboys would take your “save ’em, then bill ’em!” alternative either. It wouldn’t maximize their opportunities for omnidirectional outrage and blood lust.

  12. Another quibble with the three choices: we could choose not to have a health “insurance” system, and just have a health system. Far as I can tell, the insurers contribute nothing of wider social value. They just gate-keep and bean-count (which are not of value to me).

    What I personally find amusing are these “consumer empowerment” types, who apparently think there are large numbers of people who go to the doctor because it’s fun and they have a low co-pay.

    I don’t see why anyone would find this incident surprising, though. This is social Darwinism, and large numbers of Americans believe in it (until it’s their turn).

  13. +1, Seth. Your example points out the permanent stage of adolescent rebellion that is the “conservative” outlook in the US today.

    But as Lincoln Allison said, these people aren’t conservatives — they’re wild-eyed, idealistic radicals. Believing that people will take care to make wise choices? That humans will be prudent? Yep – that’s some crazy, teenage idealism right there, worthy of the leftest of the left wing!

  14. Ravi,
    You’re about half right. “Save ’em and bill ’em” is largely a deontological alternative, unaffected by ability to pay. But then again, so is “let ’em croak.” Remember, Wolf Blitzer’s hypothetical had an employable 30-year old, whose lifetime earnings would almost certainly exceed the cost of health care. Society would have benefited, even if the taxpayers paid for the whole bill. The proponents of this alternative are not thinking consequentially.

    I personally don’t buy “save ’em and bill ’em”. But it remains an option.

    I agree with you 100%.

  15. paul says:
    September 13, 2011 at 5:46 am

    “Is there any demographic information on the people attending the debates? Usually audiences are party establishment, but this far out from the election it could simply be that no one cares except the wingnuts.”

    Considering it was a Tea Party event, and considering the recent trend of converting ‘town halls’ into private, restricted-entry stunts, I’d guess that everybody in the audience was a hard core Republican.

  16. Barry,
    Considering it was a primary debate, you can bet everyone in attendance was a hard-core partisan. Basically the only hope the Republicans have of being taken seriously is to argue that the audience was not, as you say, composed of hard-core Republicans, but was instead composed of extremist teahaddists who don’t reflect the larger Republican party. Even though they so obviously control it.

  17. @ NCG

    Amen, and amen.

    But there is apparently no chance whatever that we will decide to have a health-care system, rather than a health-insurance system. More is the pity.

  18. The second clip did help; it sounded like a handful of “yes” shouters. But Rick Perry says he was taken aback by those few. This incident may deliver a wake-up call to the sane Republicans that they need to worry about what has happened to their party.

    Michelle Bachmann thinks that Gardasil causes mental retardation because a mother told her that her little girl became retarded after getting the vaccine.

    Let these people self-destruct, but let it be made manifest who they are and what they stand for. Dont’ count on NPR to do this; they had a story on last night’s debate and were mainly deferential to the yahoos who said why they like Perry and Bachmann so much. No real challenges to any of them.

  19. @ James. I really think this is a cheap shot, as only a few cheered and a few more laughed very uneasily. I would not cheer to the question of whether we should let the individual die, and don’t know many people who would. Yet I would note that we are implicitly making choices that cause individuals to die every day. One child dies of starvation every five seconds, Whether our government should pay for an individual who makes a good salary and chose not to purchase health insurance, when there is a possibility of friends, family, and private charitable organizations doing so, is not so cut and dry. Furthermore, I do not think it wrong to encourage people to take responsibility for themselves.

  20. No, actually. Ideally that person would be insured with universal healthcare which I support. THe point is that “we,” would not let him die in either case, whether it is the government or private society.

  21. I’m also disappointed you decided to be snarky rather than address the larger part of my post, which is the oddness of nationalism and the fact that it makes us inherently favor those within our borders rather than the millions suffering around the world. We take nation states as they exist for granted, but I would argue our responsibilities ought to be more widespread.

  22. Ed Whitney says:

    “The second clip did help; it sounded like a handful of “yes” shouters. But Rick Perry says he was taken aback by those few. This incident may deliver a wake-up call to the sane Republicans that they need to worry about what has happened to their party.”

    Counting on the GOP to get a wake-up call hasn’t worked yet. Their pattern is to double down on the crazy. Some magical day, they might get hammered for a few elections in a row, which would probably do the job. As it is, they do pretty well.

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