"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not," warned Thomas Jefferson.
First of all, it is not known that this is an actual quote from Thomas Jefferson. It does not exist in any of his writings according to the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. I say it because the person who used the quote on his blog has been rather sloppy with facts in the past (more about him at the end of this post), and my suspicions about the attribution of the quote were confirmed by a quick Google search which led me here.
What I find offensive about the quote is not just its incorrect attribution, but the fact that it is presumably being used to condemn "Obama care". (I can say with a reasonable amount of certainty given the context (the blog) and the user of the quote (again, more on him to follow).
As it happens, the quote seems aimed at eliciting in readers the worst feelings about what the American Right likes to call redistribution of wealth (which non-millionaires like me call what it is, i.e. progressive taxation) by implying that it rewards laziness over industry and entrepreneurship. Of course, this is--for the most part--sheer bullshit, but it helps that the people peddling it have the biggest megaphones.
Redistribution of wealth aimed at ensuring that as many of our fellow Americans (and legal aliens) can enjoy affordable access to a basic human right, i.e. the right enjoy a minimum level of health care services without risking bankruptcy or death, a right that is recognized by all civilized countries, should be accepted rather unbegrudingly by your average moneyed interests. It is the part of the social contract between the haves and the haves-not that guarantees, among other things, that the latter will not take to the streets and burn down the palaces of the former in exchange for a fair standard of living, which includes the ability to put a roof over one's head, to feed one's family, to go to affordable quality school, to be treated equally before the law regardless of income levels (yeah, right!) and, yes, to be able to receive good and affordable treatment in doctor's offices and hospitals.
But the picture that the Right astutely and disingenuously painted of the health insurance reform that Congress trudgingly and clumsily passed days ago is in keeping with the quote given at the top of this post, that is that Congress and the President are taking from "those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."
It takes some truly despicable people to subscribe to and to promote the fantastic idea that this health insurance reform bill is a handout to those who don't deserve it because they are too lazy to go get it. Many of the uninsured or under-insured have a job. In fact, some even have more than one, but they still cannot afford health insurance for themselves or their families because of the outrageous cost of premiums or of deductibles and copays. You don't have to believe me. You can visit the many websites that document this known fact, like the ones listed below.
Faces of Maryland's Uninsured Project
Pennsylvania Health Law Project (PDF file)
The Uninsured (New York Times Editorial)
National Association of Free Clinics (PDF file)
These data are not hard to find, so not finding them is probably due to a combination of dishonesty and willful refusal to acknowledge that the picture they paint is definitely not one of lazy unemployed people whose goal is to mooch health care from those who work.
Consider that, as reported by USA Today, "the percentage of all employers offering health insurance in the past eight years peaked in 2000 at 69% and has fallen steadily since, hitting 60% this year , according to an annual survey of employers by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation. Among small firms of three to nine workers, the percentage offering insurance has dropped even more — from 58% in 2001 to 45% this year" [again, 2007, which is when the article I quoted was published. And that was BEFORE the worst of the unemployment crisis hit.)
More recent [PDF] data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that since 1999 the cost of premiums has increased by 131% and that the cost of worker contributions has increased at more or less the same rate (128%). It also confirms the drop in number of business, particularly small businesses (between 3 and 9 employees) who are willing or able to offer health care benefits.
All these data help to dismantle the meme, propagated by the right and embraced by those who are angry and vulnerable (the ignorant, the uneducated and the fearful), that the bill is aimed at building a constituency of leeches who will vote for Democratic candidates to keep their "entitlements"*, the kind of bullshit that the right seeks to convey every day using inflammatory and demonstrably false rhetoric, aided by seemingly authoritative but fabricated quotes like the one at the top of this post.
Which brings me to the person who used the quote as a means of corroborating his despicable and false message. Sloppiness is an annoying trait and if the use of the quote above was simply a matter of sloppiness it would be bad enough. But I fear that we are dealing with something more sinister than sloppiness in this case, that is a willful attempt to mislead those who are vulnerable and inclined to be misled. This is particularly despicable when it comes from a member of academia (though not very reputable academia, to be sure) like the individual who runs The Constructive Curmudgeon, where the quote was posted. An educator is not supposed to mislead but to enlighten.
Let me leave you with a true quote by Thomas Jefferson: "To unequal privileges among members of the same society the spirit of our nation is, with one accord, adverse." Apply that concept, liberally if you will, to the topic of health care.
* This is an accusation that has now been leveled against Democrats for 3 quarters of a century. Consider the following quote from H.L. Mencken, written on the eve of the 1936 election, about the New Deal:
"Its chief practical business is to search out groups that can be brought into the [Democratic Party] machine by grants out of the public treasury, which is to say, out of the pockets of the rest of us." [Sam Tanenhaus, The Death of Conservatism] You know how bad the New Deal turned out to be for Americans, don't you?