Promoted from the diaries by Jeff

At one of the McCain-Obama debates in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, the candidates were asked in turn if health care were a right or a privilege. Obama answered unequivocally that it was a right, while McCain fumbled a bit and declared that it was a privilege.

I disagree with both answers.

The reason both were wrong last October is that neither appeared to understand the basic definition of a ‘right’: something the government cannot forbid.

A basic right which is implied but not mentioned in the Constitution is the right to travel. The government should not interfere in our movement from place to place. But there is no right to transportation, either to a specific form of transport or to have any provided, Cash For Clunkers notwithstanding. If there were, one couldn’t pass by a hitchhiker (and they would choke every intersection demanding that their rights be satisfied).

Similarly, the government should not be able to bar anyone from receiving health care. That is very different thing from supplying it to everyone, or forcing health care workers to serve anyone who appears before them.

But in their usual manner, the left have found a way to redefine the word “right” in this context, from that which the government cannot prevent to that which it must provide. Like other socialists, Barack Obama believes rights to include things the government must provide, and it is from that unfortunate perspective that he was able to give the clear response that he did. Indeed, positive rights are the essence of socialism, and cause an insidious mission creep for an ever-expanding government. Positive rights also lead inevitably to forcing one citizen, whether driver or physician, to serve another.

John McCain was given a golden opportunity to define himself, and he took it. He showed progressives that he was not one of them, but failed at the same time to inspire conservatives by declaring the question ill-formed, and by using his own background as a teaching tool. He has known personally the effects of a government that will deny health care to those in its charge.

Health care is not a privilege, like driving a car or owning a certain kind of shoes. Health care is a right, like the right to leave and go elsewhere. But as no one need pick up a hitchhiker, no one need provide anyone else with medical care. The right to health care implies only that the government must not interfere with our attempts to care for ourselves and others. It does not mean that the government should provide care to anyone, except to prisoners of war and other wards of the State.

Part of the reason for the confusion about whether health care is or is not a right is a confusion of terms. But the reason for that confusion is that we do not currently have a government that, as John McCain’s socialist captors denied him health care, abuses people by denying them treatment. Ironically, Obamacare could only sustain itself by rationing, thereby giving us a government that would deny health care to those deemed too far gone, or thought to have insufficient utility to the State.