Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When "Personal Responsibility" Crosses the Line

A couple of days ago, shortly after the Republican debate scheduled for that evening, I found the following statement on Twitter:
In the last two debates, the GOP debate audience has cheered: 1. 234 executions, 2. Letting uninsured people die
I was already aware of the incident that point #1 refers to, and found Bruce Reyes-Chow's commentary on that incident to be a more than sufficient response.  I chose not to throw in "my two cents" at that time, except to share that post via Twitter and Facebook.

The idea that a second seemingly-appalling display of malice might have occurred at the very next Republican debate surprised me, and I posted the following response on my own Twitter account:
To the extent this is true, perhaps Repubs should be more careful who sits in their audiences. Can't help them look good.
It was important to me to express that "to the extent this is true" caveat. I try not to assume malice when a more benign explanation will do. Even so, the possibility that such sentiments may be becoming widespread is more than a little disturbing. I have since had the opportunity to go back and watch a video of the incident in question.  Here is a brief clip (less than two minutes long):



I'm sure that other people may feel differently, but it seems to me that the real "cheering" was not about letting people die, but about people taking personal responsibility for their own actions or inactions (specifically in regard to buying insurance). That cheering seemed to be pretty widespread. The appalling bit was just after that, and it wasn't so much something that Ron Paul said, but the response of (what seemed to me to be) a relative few in the audience to moderator Wolf Blitzer's question about whether Paul would just let the uninsured person die. It sounded to me like a couple of people were actually encouraging Paul to say "yes" (which Paul notably did not do, whether or not you liked what he did say). I truly hope that those few are not representative of any significant population of people, but were indeed nothing more than a vocal minority.

But even as a vocal minority, this remains a problem, and to the extent that Christians identify with Ron Paul, the Tea Party, Republicans, or anyone else these debates were intended to represent, we would do well to distance ourselves from such remarks. Personal responsibility is one thing, but callous disregard for life is something that should never be associated with those of us who proclaim the name of Christ. We need to do more than just deny that such vocal evil is at all representative of what we actually believe. We need to prove that we care about whether or not people are adequately cared for. If that means, as Paul suggested, that churches and charities pick up the slack, great! There's plenty of room for non-government options to make sure that proper medical care is made available.

I'm not wholly unsympathetic to the desire to hold people accountable for their own lack of foresight. If a person chooses not to get medical insurance in a timely manner, I'm not saying "treat them anyway" regardless of what's wrong. Many maladies can safely be considered comparatively mild nuisances, and I don't think we should be trying to eliminate all discomfort. There's room to allow people to learn from their own mistakes. But if it comes down to whether a person lives or dies, the "personal responsibility" argument must not become a shield for Christians to hide behind and avoid our own responsibility to provide care for those who need it. Jesus didn't command us to care for the sick with the caveat "but only the sick that deserve it."

1 comment:

  1. So the question is, as it has been for centuries, "Am I my brother's keeper?". Even Ron Paul says yes. Although not all in the audience answer yes. The question is how to we "keep" each other. Do we want a systematic, comprehensive system? Or do we want a patchwork, ad hoc system?

    People forget, one of the reasons we have Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc is that the patchwork, ad hoc system did not work well.

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