Summary: Senator Obama said that if he ”were designing a system from scratch, I would probably go ahead with a single-payer system. ” This reveals his implicit view of American citizens and the status of citizens under single-payer health care: they are like ingredients and politicians (“designers”) are the chefs. It’s no surprise that single-payer advocates do not mind or recognize that forcing people into such a “system” violates the rights of physicians, patients, and insurers to do business with each other according to their best interests and own judgment. As Frederic Bastiat wrote of socialists back in 1850: “To these intellectuals and writers, the relationship between persons and the legislator appears to be the same as the relationship between the clay and the potter.”
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I have argued that perhaps the most important part of any real moral system is the system of metaphors for morality and the priorities given to particular metaphors. If I am correct, then vital political reasoning is done using those metaphors—and usually done unconsciously. This means that the empirical study of metaphorical thought must be given its appropriate place in ethics and moral theory…
With this in mind, consider the metaphor Barack Obama has used in support of single-payer health care, a type of socialized medicine. At a town hall meeting in New Mexico, Senator Obama said:
If I were designing a system from scratch, I would probably go ahead with a single-payer system.
He has used the phrase “from scratch” before, so there’s a good chance that he means it literally. People may speak of writing legislation or policy ”from scratch,” such as a tax policy or patent law.” But this is different. He’s talking about a significant sector of our economy, which refers to trade between people: patients, physicians, pharmacists, insurers, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, etc. The “system” that Obama wants to “design from scratch” ingredients are people’s lives.
Like many advocates of government-run industries and charities, Barack Obama sees his relationship as a politician to citizens to be analogous to that of a cook (the “designer”) with ingredients. We’re not individuals with rights. We’re ingredients in his recipe.
As economist Frederic Bastiat wrote in The Law (1850):
Socialists look upon people as raw material to be formed into social combinations. This is so true that, if by chance, the socialists have any doubts about the success of these combinations, they will demand that a small portion of mankind be set aside to experiment upon. The popular idea of trying all systems is well known. And one socialist leader has been known seriously to demand that the Constituent Assembly give him a small district with all its inhabitants, to try his experiments upon.
In the same manner, an inventor makes a model before he constructs the full-sized machine; the chemist wastes some chemicals—the farmer wastes some seeds and land—to try out an idea.
But what a difference there is between the gardener and his trees, between the inventor and his machine, between the chemist and his elements, between the farmer and his seeds! And in all sincerity, the socialist thinks that there is the same difference between him and mankind!
It is no wonder that the writers of the nineteenth century look upon society as an artificial creation of the legislator’s genius. This idea—the fruit of classical education—has taken possession of all the intellectuals and famous writers of our country. To these intellectuals and writers, the relationship between persons and the legislator appears to be the same as the relationship between the clay and the potter.
Obama’s use of metaphor reveals how he, perhaps unconsciously, sees the relationship between American citizens and politicians: as ingredients to be used by politicians acting as chefs. With such an attitude, it’s no surprise he has little respect for patients’ rights to exercise their own judgement in procuring health care and health insurance for themselves and family, or for physicians’ rights to do business as they see fit.
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1For a fine critique of Lakoff’s view on metaphors and politics by a fellow linguist, see Steven Pinker’s article here.
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