Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Virtues Gone Wild

by: R.J. Moeller

The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues.” -GK Chesterton

This week I had the privilege of attending one of those much talked about town hall meetings regarding the President’s “public option” health care reform. It was hosted by my congressional representative, Mark Kirk (R-IL), and held in my suburban Chicago hometown. More than 800 passionate citizens came out; roughly double the amount of people Congressman Kirk’s office had predicted would show up. It was an exciting, lively afternoon, made better by the fact that my representative calmed many fears by clearly articulating both his disapproval of the president’s big-government option and the common sense alternative reforms he endorses.

As I stood on the steps of city hall, taking in the sights and sounds of nearly 1000 American citizens discharging their democratic rights (and duties), two important things occurred to me.

First, those people chanting and carrying signs in support of a “public option”, for the most part (and disregarding the nuts who show up on both sides), truly believe in their cause and genuinely desire to make health care cheap and readily accessible (specifically for the poorer, less fortunate among us). And second, those same people have, perhaps unwittingly, isolated one virtue, namely charity, from almost all the other virtues that give charity its full meaning and context; namely truth, justice, and prudence.

It seems to me that it is because they fail to acknowledge this second point that the Left perpetually fails to accomplish the first.

Famed early 20th century British writer and journalist GK Chesterton recognized this exact same problem in the England of his day. Writing in his classic work, Orthodoxy, Chesterton explains:

The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.
Context is everything, especially when it comes to socio-economic reform. The public option, a reform plan that is undoubtedly a designed “gateway bill” to the single-payer, socialized medicine that Barack Obama believes is a “right” owed to all Americans, is now being presented by the president himself as a “moral” issue. Charity, a term now synonymous with “social justice”, is supreme in the mind and rhetoric of the modern progressive liberal. But what moral issue is complete in and of itself? Even love, if not appropriately discharged, can ruin both the giver and recipient of it. Context is everything.

Truth is one virtue that must be added to our charity. The truth, the actual facts on the ground, matter a great deal. If someone has convinced him or herself that it is a moral imperative we charitably give free health care and/or health insurance to the roughly 45 million Americans currently uninsured, and has based that emotionally charged conviction on the number “45 million”, would it not be prudent to investigate those numbers to see who comprise them? Upon further review we find that more than half of those 45 million are either in the country illegally, or have the funds for insurance and recklessly choose to avoid purchasing it. This is truth you should believe in, and is necessary to consider and discuss when making drastic changes to the best health care system on the planet.

And what about justice? I have always liked the definition for justice that C.S. Lewis gives in Mere Christianity: “…it includes honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises, and all that side of life.” Liberal Democrats have for decades linked their social engineering plans, such as welfare, affirmative action, and now this public option plan, to the notion of charity, but have perpetually failed to apply justice to their charity. Sure they call it “social justice”, but would anyone actually attempt to make the case that the “justice” Lewis is talking about is exemplified in the type of federally-subsidized and orchestrated charity the Left promotes?

When you learn that between 7-10% of the costs for government-run Medicare and Medicaid is lost to fraud, while the private medical insurance and health care industry lose less than 0.05% to fraud, is “honesty” really the right word? When one side (“the rich”) is doing all the giving, while faceless bureaucrats and the constantly re-defined “poor” do all the taking, would anyone call that a healthy, moral relationship? Other than then-Senator Obama’s promise that he would do everything he could to re-shape the nation, what was the last meaningful promise made by any politician that was fully kept?

Prudence is yet another virtue needed to complement charity. Prudence is practical common sense. It is thinking through your actions and the probable consequences of them. I saw a number of signs, and heard a number of chants outside the town hall meeting I attended this week that proclaimed, “I am my brother’s keeper.” This being a direct allusion to teachings from the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, I do not hesitate to respond in turn with a few other things the Judeo-Christian value system has to say regarding the matter.

Writing later in Mere Christianity, C.S Lewis expounds on the topic of prudence by pointing out a gross misunderstanding of Christ’s call for us to come to Him “as little children.” He states:

In the first place, most children show plenty of ‘prudence’ about doing the things they are really interested in, and think them out quite sensibly. In the second place, as St. Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence; on the contrary. He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.
No one, religious or otherwise, is off the hook intellectually because they mean well emotionally. Common sense matters, and, like our natural rights, is a gift from our Creator that can be lost when we stop using and protecting it. When your nation is in staggering debt, in part because of an over-reaching, over-spending federal government, it is wholly un-justifiable to spend $1 trillion on a public option plan that is unnecessary and almost guaranteed to fail. What President Obama has asked the American people to do is ignore history, math, the U.S. Constitution, and our own common sense and to just trust him that things will be better. Not very prudent if you ask me.

Please understand that no one is in favor of completely keeping the status quo in health care and health insurance. I recognize that supporters of the president’s public option want what is best for their country. I saw in their eyes the passion and devotion to helping poor people get affordable care, and to bringing down the costs for all Americans. I get that, and I commend their intentions.

But whether you know are wrong, or end up being wrong due to incorrect data or indoctrination – you’re still wrong. And in the public square, when it comes to political decisions with all their unintended consequences, what ultimately matters most is the “better way” of doing something like health care reform.

Charity cannot continue to be a battering ram with which liberals are allowed to knock down the walls of our “shining city on a hill”, no matter what their intentions may be. Charity without truth, justice, and prudence isn’t worth the cardboard sign it’s written on.