“Winston” Olbermann and the Healthcare Debate

“Winston” Olbermann and the Healthcare Debate

N.B.: If Mr. Olber­mann had done more research, he would know what Churchill did say about nation­al health­care, which is more to the point: see Churchill and Healthcare.

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Kei­th Olber­mann (MSNBC)

MSNBC com­men­ta­tor Kei­th Olber­mann is for the pro­posed Amer­i­can health­care reform bill, which is nei­ther here nor there.

What is inter­est­ing to Churchillians is his use of Win­ston Churchill’s words to sup­port it—from both 1945 (when Churchill was cam­paign­ing against social­ism), and 1936 (when Churchill was urg­ing rear­ma­ment in the face of Nazi Germany).

In 1945, Olber­mann says, Churchill

equat­ed his oppo­nents, the par­ty that sought to intro­duce “The Nation­al Health,” to the Gestapo of the Ger­mans that he and we had just beat­en just as those oppos­ing reform now have invoked Nazis as fre­quent­ly and false­ly as if they were invok­ing Zom­bies. Churchill cost him­self the elec­tion because he didn’t real­ize he was over­play­ing an issue that peo­ple were already damned seri­ous about.

Er…not exact­ly, Mr. O.

Churchill did not use the “Gestapo speech” to oppose Labour’s nation­al health plan, which, in gen­er­al at least, he sup­port­ed (see next post). He used it to describe—in what was lat­er thought to be a poor analogy—the kind of com­pul­sion cit­i­zens might expect under a social­ist government:

No Social­ist Gov­ern­ment con­duct­ing the entire life and indus­try of the coun­try could afford to allow free, sharp, or vio­lent­ly-word­ed expres­sions of pub­lic dis­con­tent. They would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo, no doubt very humane­ly direct­ed in the first instance. And this would nip opin­ion in the bud; it would stop crit­i­cism as it reared its head, and it would gath­er all the pow­er to the supreme par­ty and the par­ty lead­ers, ris­ing like state­ly pin­na­cles above their vast bureau­cra­cies of Civ­il ser­vants, no longer ser­vants and no longer civil.

And where would the ordi­nary sim­ple folk—the com­mon peo­ple, as they like to call them in America—where would they be, once this mighty organ­ism had got them in its grip? I stand for the sov­er­eign free­dom of the indi­vid­ual with­in the laws which freely elect­ed Par­lia­ments have freely passed.

It is an arti­cle of faith in “enlight­ened” cir­cles that Churchill made a bad mis­take by com­par­ing the 1945 Labour Par­ty, led by the kind­ly, self-effac­ing Clement Attlee, to Hitler’s polit­i­cal police. Maybe so.

But it strikes me as inter­est­ing when a friend in Eng­land, a con­firmed Labour sup­port­er, likens the tac­tics of cer­tain mod­ern Labour town coun­cils in Britain pre­cise­ly to those of the Gestapo: in their sup­pres­sion of free speech; in their attempt to destroy those who dis­agree with them; in their vit­ri­olic hatred of oppo­si­tion media.

If Churchill’s words don’t put you in mind of cer­tain recent devel­op­ments in Amer­i­ca, read on.

Olber­mann now switch­es to the Churchill of 1936, who, he says,

made the great­est argu­ment ever for gov­ern­ment inter­ven­tion in health care only [sic] he did not real­ize it. He was debat­ing in Par­lia­ment the notion that the British gov­ern­ment could not increase expen­di­tures on mil­i­tary defense unless the vot­ers specif­i­cal­ly autho­rized it, just as today’s oppo­nents of reform are now claim­ing they speak for the vot­ers of today, even though those vot­ers spoke for them­selves eleven months ago.

Churchill’s argu­ment was this: “I have heard it said that the gov­ern­ment had no mandate….Such a doc­trine is whol­ly inad­mis­si­ble. The respon­si­bil­i­ty [of Min­is­ters] for the pub­lic safe­ty is absolute and requires no mandate.”

And there is the essence of what this is. What, on the eter­nal list of pri­or­i­ties, pre­cedes health? What more obvi­ous role could gov­ern­ment have than the defense of the life, of each cit­i­zen? We can­not stop every germ that seeks to harm us any more than we can stop every per­son who seeks to harm us. But we can try dammit and government’s essen­tial role in that effort facil­i­tate it, reduce its cost, broad­en its avail­abil­i­ty, improve my health and yours, seems, ulti­mate­ly, self-explana­to­ry. [sic]

We want to live. What is gov­ern­ment for if not to help us do so? Indeed Mr. Churchill, the respon­si­bil­i­ty for the pub­lic safe­ty is absolute and requires no mandate!

Leave aside the ques­tion of whether the cur­rent health­care pro­pos­al would expand or shrink access to health­care. To equate it with a threat to a nation’s exis­tence is quite a stretch. But let’s start by quot­ing all of what Churchill said, on 12 Novem­ber 1936:

I have heard it said that the Gov­ern­ment had no man­date for rear­ma­ment until the Gen­er­al Elec­tion. Such a doc­trine is whol­ly inad­mis­si­ble. The respon­si­bil­i­ty of Min­is­ters for the pub­lic safe­ty is absolute and requires no man­date. It is in fact the prime object for which Gov­ern­ments come into exis­tence. The Prime Min­is­ter had the com­mand of enor­mous majori­ties in both Hous­es of Par­lia­ment ready to vote for any nec­es­sary mea­sures of defence.

“The respon­si­bil­i­ty for the pub­lic safe­ty is absolute.” Indeed so: the safe­ty of the nation against those who would snuff it out. That is, inar­guably, “the prime object for which Gov­ern­ments come into exis­tence.” They do not come into exis­tence to pass out largess until the pub­lic till is exhaust­ed and the cur­ren­cy debased. The Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment was not cre­at­ed to force every cit­i­zen to buy a good or service—which is part of the cur­rent health­care pro­pos­al, but nowhere autho­rized by the Unit­ed States Con­sti­tu­tion. And has nev­er before been man­dat­ed in history.

True, the Pres­i­dent does have “the com­mand of enor­mous majori­ties.” Yet he seems unable to make them “vote for any nec­es­sary mea­sures.” Why?

It would behoove him, and the Con­gress, and the rest of us to ask. Is it, for exam­ple, because 75% of cit­i­zens are hap­py with their health­care? Or because they pre­fer piece­meal solu­tions that are more eas­i­ly monitored—tort reform and porta­bil­i­ty, for example—to a com­pre­hen­sive plan that would inevitably lead to mas­sive spend­ing and rationing? Or because a large major­i­ty fear that like Medicare, which will go broke inside a decade unless altered, this ampli­fi­ca­tion of Medicare will also go broke—or exclude many for whom Medicare is now acces­si­ble? Or because it will require puni­tive tax­es? Or because they can see no exam­ple of any­thing run effi­cient­ly by gov­ern­ment, from the Postal Ser­vice to the war in Afghanistan? All these are legit­i­mate objec­tions, and peo­ple are not Nazis to express them.

Salon.com, which agrees with Mr. Olber­mann about health reform, says he did noth­ing to advance their cause: that his argu­ment is self-defeating:

[He dug] up a Churchill quote from the 1930s where the for­mer British prime min­is­ter insist­ed gov­ern­ment had a right to pro­vide for people’s well-being. But what was the point? Churchill is dead; the health­care reform plan isn’t remote­ly mod­eled on Britain’s Nation­al Health Ser­vice; the only peo­ple who think it is are the con­ser­v­a­tive oppo­nents of reform.

In the nar­row sense, that’s a rejec­tion of Olbermann’s argu­ment. In a broad­er sense, Salon is also right. Churchill is dead. This is not 1936 or 1945. Lady Soames is often wont to remark: “You must nev­er sug­gest what my father would do or say about any mod­ern issue—after all, how do you know?”

What her father said about lib­er­ty nev­er goes out of fash­ion, and here is the most mem­o­rable sen­tence in  his “Gestapo speech” of 1945: “I stand for the sov­er­eign free­dom of the individual.”

Of course, Churchill’s times are often par­al­leled in ours. That’s the val­ue of study­ing history—how Churchill react­ed to chal­lenges which may seem famil­iar to thought­ful peo­ple. And, since Mr. Olber­mann likes to tell us what reminds him of Hitler, let me say what reminds me of Hitler.

It is peo­ple who think it appro­pri­ate to offer an email address where Amer­i­cans can report any­thing “fishy” they might see or hear ema­nat­ing from the thoughts and opin­ions of oth­er Amer­i­cans. That reminds me of the Gestapo.

092309_classIt is a teacher who makes lit­tle school­child­ren chant, “Mm, mmm, mm! He said that all must lend a hand, To make this coun­try strong again, Mmm, mmm, mm!
He said we must be fair today, Equal work means equal pay….Hello, Mr. Pres­i­dent we hon­or you today!
 For all your great accom­plish­ments, we all doth say hooray!”—set to the music of “Jesus Loves the Lit­tle Children.”

6a00d8341c8e0153ef01156fc434e9970b-400wiThat reminds me of the Hitler Youth.

Com­men­ta­tor Mark Whit­ting writes: “This is going beyond the beyonds, as this writer’s Irish granny used to say.”

That, Mr. Whit­ting, is putting it mildly.

If we are going to draw any­thing from Churchill’s “Gestapo speech” that bears on our cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, it might be what Churchill said about gath­er­ing “all the pow­er to the supreme par­ty and the par­ty lead­ers, ris­ing like state­ly pin­na­cles above their vast bureau­cra­cies of civ­il ser­vants, no longer ser­vants and no longer civil.

“And where would the ordi­nary sim­ple folk—the com­mon peo­ple, as they like to call them in America—where would they be, once this mighty organ­ism had got them in its grip?”

One thought on ““Winston” Olbermann and the Healthcare Debate

  1. Spot on! I will say this as a Lib­er­tar­i­an. I think that the rea­son Con­ser­v­a­tives ideas of what Gov­ern­ment should do for us get shot down by the Lib­er­als like KO. It is because nei­ther group sees a need for a man­date by the peo­ple. At least not when it comes to their issues. In the USA majori­ties rule. And right­ly should. But nev­er at the expense of our Con­sti­tu­tion or Bill of Rights. That in my mind is what makes US a great Nation. And of course the only way back from the Social­ist route that the USA is on, is the way of the Lib­er­tar­i­an. A day in Lib­er­ty to you!

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