The comment section of the first part of this three-part entry took an unexpected, but welcome, turn when someone asked what the word “progress” meant. Having not really considered the matter, I took it as a given that “progress” meant advancement toward a goal and that “Progress” meant the acquisition and use of knowledge to advance toward what, without thinking, I thought pretty much everyone would want mankind to advance toward — things like health, peace, prosperity, freedom, technological innovation, happiness. But the conversation turned to metaphysics with, as usual, the Bookwormroom readers showing their great depth and insight.
Whatever Progress means to each of us, my suggestion, and the ultimate point of this “thought” is that conservatives have done themselves and their cause a disservice by abandoning the idea of Progress as we understood it in the 50s and 60s and letting the leftists define the terms of engagement.
Nowhere is this more clear than in the health care debate. As was discussed in the last comment, the American free-enterprise health care system has has done more to save lives and improve the quality of lives that any health care system ever. The leftists want to destroy this system and replace it with a government controlled system that will stifle the creativity needed to produce the innovations that save lives and improve the quality of life.
Of course, they don’t talk about destroying the goose that lays the golden eggs. They talk about unequal access to health care. They re-define health care as a right, something it has never been anywhere in the history of humanity. They harp on the unfairness of it all. Critically, we largely accept the leftist’s definition of terms and fight the battle on their battlefield. We talk about the fact, undoubtedly true, that, everywhere government health care has been tried, it has resulted in long waiting periods and, in effect, rationed health care. We talk about death counselling and about the fact that once government takes over, it will attempt to eliminate from the system those who place the most demands on it, in the name of providing better service to the community as a whole.
We talk a lot about how bad things will be under the new system. But we don’t talk very much about how amazing, how extraordinary, how revolutionarily successful, the old system has been! Yes, distribution of the new medical advances is uneven. Yes, the system is expensive (though compared to the value received it’s a bargain). But the majority who have unrestricted access to the system receive health care that could only have been dreamed of 50 years ago. Even those who are limited to emergency access and access to public hospitals receive far better service that anyone received 50 years ago. Rather than taking this remarkable system for granted, we should shout from the rooftops about the millions of lives it has saved, the millions of others it has improved the quality of. We should be asking the leftists whether they are willing to destroy this system in the name of equal access. We should demand that in modifying the health care system our politicians follow the health care provider’s creed of first doing no harm to this extraordinary system.
We can certainly accept more equal access to the benefits of the system as a legitimate goal. But we should demand that any solution not compromise the existing goals of the system of constantly improving the ability to save lives and improve the quality of lives. We should remind the leftists, and the public at large, of the many procedures that were life-threatening just a few years ago and are now routinely out-patient procedures, of the many diseases that have been eradicated or made far less threatening by the development of vaccines and drugs, of the many treatments and technologies that simply didn’t exist a few years ago and would not now exist if not for the American health care system.
We all know what benefits the American system has provided. When I started this series of posts, I hadn’t yet looked to see how many Americans received the Nobel Prize for medicine. But without even looking I would have bet Americans would dominate the list. Of course they did. Would any one of you have doubted it, even without looking? So why don’t we talk about this more? Why are we so willing to fight on the leftists’ battlefield, arguing about what, if anything, can be gained from the new system, and nearly ignoring the huge benefits of the old system that are threatened by the change?
At least in medicine, and I suspect in most things, most Americans want “progress” (in the sense of advancing toward goals that most people want, like improved ways to save lives and improve the quality of our lives). We’ll be more successful, if we tailor our arguments to take advantage of that fact.