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Why Conservatives Lost the Health-Care Battle

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The reason that conservatives bit the dust in the recent health-care battle is simple: their fateful decision to abandon their principles many decades ago cost them any chance of defeating President Obama’s socialist health-care plan.

Think back to the 1960s, when liberals were celebrating the enactment of LBJ’s Medicare and Medicaid plans as much as they are celebrating Obama’s plan today. Those were the halcyon days when the statists were proclaiming that Medicare and Medicaid would bring a health-care paradise to America.

At the time conservatives were warning Americans against traveling down this road to socialism, a road to serfdom, a road that would lead to national bankruptcy, a road to where socialism has led Greece today.

But Americans wouldn’t listen. Surrendering to the siren’s song of the statists, the American people embraced Medicare and Medicaid (and the welfare state), in the process ditching what was once the finest health-care system in the world, one based on freedom and free markets.

Conservatives realized that they had an important choice to make — whether to adhere to their free-market principles or to join the statists. Fearing that they would lose political power and “legitimacy” and “credibility” with the mainstream press, they chose to throw in the towel and join the statists. They embraced Medicare and Medicaid (and Social Security and the rest of the welfare state) with eagerness and enthusiasm, sometimes, it seems, even trying to appear more statist than the liberals.

Meanwhile, libertarian free-market thinkers were continuing to warn Americans what lay ahead.

Friedrich Hayek, whose famous book The Road to Serfdom had been published in 1944, continued to sound the warnings.

Ludwig von Mises was pointing out that one government intervention would inevitably lead to future interventions to deal with the crises produced by previous interventions.

In his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman included a chapter in which he called for an end to medical licensure.

Putting all this together inevitably led any devotee of liberty to but one conclusion: that the root cause of America’s health-care woes lay in the socialism of Medicare and Medicaid and the interventionism of medical licensure and insurance regulation. As these government programs developed over time, the health-care crisis grew bigger and bigger, producing more and more distortions and perversions, leading statist proponents to call for ever-increasing new socialist and interventionist programs.

So, where did that leave conservatives in the latest health-care debate? It left them with nothing. Concerned about legitimacy, credibility, and power, they couldn’t bring themselves to call for the only real solution there is to a crisis produced by decades of socialism and interventionism: Repeal (i.e., don’t reform) Medicare, Medicaid, medical licensure, and insurance regulation (along with the taxes that fund them).

Yet, calling for nothing would have left conservatives in the position of implicitly defending the continuation of the nation’s health-care crisis. So, they took the predictable course: They proposed their own alternative reform plan, which simply called for a bit less socialism and interventionism than Obama’s plan.

That leaves the libertarians to lead the way. Ever since conservatives threw in the towel, libertarians have assumed the difficult task of sounding the warnings against socialism and interventionism and striking at the root of the welfare state rather than trimming its branches.

Can we succeed in bringing about a change in course, one away from socialism and interventionism and toward freedom and free markets? Sure, but we must never permit ourselves to do what conservatives did. We must continue adhering to our principles and our integrity and to speaking the truth. It is, of course, no guarantee of success but it provides the only real chance there is of restoring a free, prosperous, harmonious, and healthy society to our land.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.