25 March 2012

What is 'personal responsibility?'

Ruth Marcus wrote a column on "Obamacare" the other day in which the Washington Post writer wondered why Republicans opposed a provision of the plan -- the notorious individual mandate -- that she regards as "an exemplar of personal responsibility."  Republicans are all for "personal responsibility," right? So why do they oppose a measure that requires everyone to help pay his or her own way when the alternative, as Marcus writes, means the insured having to pay higher premiums to cover the costs when others wait until they're sick to buy insurance? She blames the apparent inconsistency in Republican attitudes on an irrational resistance to a "perceived encroachment of big government," and to rank-and-file fears of being made to buy something they already have. But if she thinks she's scoring a rhetorical point against Republicans by making the individual mandate a "personal responsibility" issue, then she doesn't really understand what Republicans mean by that mantra. For Republicans, a "personal responsibility" by definition is something that can't be enforced by an "individual mandate." When Republicans talk about personal responsibility they mean responsibility for one's own economic survival. They mean that it's up to you, the individual, to make sure you can afford health care, food, the roof over your head, etc. To say that you should be burdened with an individual mandate to buy health insurance would be the same, i.e. just as absurd, as imposing an individual mandate to buy food. If you can't figure out to do it, it's your problem if you're caught short. That's where Republican "personal responsibility" differs from Marcus's idea. The corollary of personal responsibility for Republicans is "it's your problem" if you don't act responsibly, while Marcus, presumably speaking for liberals, is trying to say "it's our problem," at least when your reluctance to buy insurance until it's too late drives up costs for everyone. You might actually convince a Republican of that point, but he'll balk at making people buy insurance as the solution. They'd rather find a way to make it only the problem of the imprudent individual, because their view is that if the individual won't do what he needs to, -- rarely questioning the necessity of any situation and rarely wanting to hear that someone can't do it -- the individual should suffer. Since the liberal doesn't want any individual to suffer, she'll require the individual to take the steps necessary to prevent the suffering. Since the Republican reserves the right to be indifferent to suffering -- he can choose to be charitable if the mood strikes him -- he sees no need to make prudent measures mandatory through law. That only reinforces an undesirable dependence upon government when individuals should figure out necessity for themselves, or else.

"Personal responsibility" is another catchphrase that really only begs questions. Personal responsibility for what? To whom? As long as we live in a political society, it can never be as purely personal as Republicans or libertarians might like -- or at least it can't be as long as society commits itself to the survival of all its members. The rhetoric of personal responsibility sometimes leaves us questioning our fellow citizens' commitment to that ideal.


Anonymous said...

What about national or social responsibility? If we follow the typical right-wing mindset, the next time I see my neighbor's house burning down, should I pound on his door and wake him up? No - it's his problem. If he dies in the fire, it's his own fault.

Republicans are the most repugnant people on this planet. I sometimes question whether they are truly even human beings or just some semi-domesticated ape.

Samuel Wilson said...

How domesticated do you think they are, exactly? The problem seems to be that you can't take them out anywhere, not how they behave at home. But to be slightly more serious, Republicans would of course claim that they'd save the neighbor -- they just don't want to feel forced to do it by the mean ol' government. But the difference between matters of conscience and matters of law does leave a little wriggle room for them not to save the neighbor for some reason or other.

Anonymous said...

So in their retarded view, the government shouldn't be allowed to "force" someone to do something that these idiots believe people should do anyway? But they believe the government should be able to refuse equal rights to all American citizens? And these are the same idiots who insist that democrats/liberals/leftists don't want to follow the Constitution? I really don't think any of these morons even understand what the Constitution is. To them, it's just another buzzword they can throw around.

Samuel Wilson said...

Simple: the government can stop people from doing "wrong," but can't (or shouldn't) force people to do "right," or punish people for not doing "right." The assumption is that "government" will have a different, wrong, idea of what is "right" than the good people have and could then actually force people to do "wrong." Characterize this as you see fit.