Friday, March 26, 2010

Jefferson Quotes, True and False

"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 [2007], 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?


Rob said...

Very good information on this quote, as I saw a Conservative friend use this on facebook recently, and having study and looked at many of Thomas Jeffersons quotes, I have never seen it, until now, which leads me to believe it was made up, in a way to support the Republican agenda.

Sirfab said...

Glad to be of service, Rob. :-)

fuchikapesta said...

This from wiki
This exact quotation has not been found in any of the writings of Thomas Jefferson. It bears a very vague resemblance to Jefferson's comment in a prospectus for his translation of Destutt de Tracy's Treatise on Political Economy: "To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, ‘the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, & the fruits acquired by it.'"

Karin said...

But since obamacare is crap well and it is pretty much true then whoever did say it should be commended. said...

I'm a 'non-millionaire' but I suppose I must not be a non-millionaire 'like you' because I still call it redistribution of wealth. Whatever you want to call it, penalizing people for achieving success is a terrible message to send and only hinders them from sharing that success, which is better achieved through free enterprise than government grifting.

Sirfab said...

You say "penalizing people for achieving success", I say making everybody pay their fair share. In no successful modern societies is the income gap between the wealthy and the poor as pronounced as it is in the United States. And in fact, most succesful modern societies are not communist havens, they are as productive and evolved as the United States, if not more, only fairer.
I hope you are not one of those conservatives that long for the Fifties, the golden era of America. The top marginal rate on the wealthy at that time was 90%, Under a Republican president. I am sure you remember.

GordymanLG said...

I love the way that you libs take the fruits of other people's efforts and then call that "fair". BTW who gets to define "fair share" - oh I guess in your demented view, the government who is in the business of propagating and expanding their own existence, power and cut of the economic pie.

We used to have a cultural tradition of supporting our less fortunate members of society through religious and other charitable institutions, family and ethnic group bonds. But, since progressives have viciously attempted to destroy or at least marginalize these institutions, they no longer function to this extent in our "gimme gimme gimme" society.

IMHO this non-quote effectively paraphrases Jefferson's comment in the propsectus noted in earlier comments. We should take it to heart, whatever the source.

Sirfab said...

I love the way you conservatives hail the 50's as the time when things in America were dreamlike, and omit to mention the fact that the top marginal tax rate was 91% then, and that it was at 50% for 7 of the 8 years your Saint Patron, Ronald Reagan of the B-Movies, was president.
You are an army of Joe the Plumbers, idiots who believe that fairy tale that the job creators shouldn't be taxed because jobs will stop being created. (You call our view demented, so don't get offended if we call you idiots.)

You know, the top tax rate has been lower than under Clinton for 11 years straight now, and where are the jobs?

TJ said...

Hey folks, Whether you agree with it or not, It's clear where Jefferson stood on this issue.

Here is a real Jefferson quote making the exact same point:

"To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, & the fruits acquired by it.'"

Hugh Jass said...

Here is a real Jefferson quote making the exact same point:

That quote is *also* bullshit.

Give it up.

I'm sure there are plenty of people other than Thomas Jefferson who would like to comfort the already comfortable and brutalize the poor.

Quote them.

Umletmethink said...

Consider that nobody wants to "brutalize the poor," and that everyone agrees that the health care/insurance system needs a major overhaul. The issue for conservatives is that the solution is NOT a government takeover of every American's healthcare. The fairness progressives seek should be applied to the political system and the rights of Americans to have a say in their government. Many Americans feel betrayed by the process that was shady at best and quite possibly overwhelmingly biased with a hidden big government agenda that has nothing to do with healthcare. Personally, I don't want the government in between me and my doctor, who incidentally left his practice this year to get away from what's ahead for the medical profession. There are solutions to solve problems that preserve the best of what this country was built on. Everyone cares. They disagree on how to solve the problems.

Sirfab said...

Umletmethink: "Personally, I don't want the government in between me and my doctor".
I have recently been through a medical ordeal with my wife.
After 2 visits to the ER in 12 hours, the ER doctors still refused to admit her to the hospital. Even though she was in excruciating pain for 2 days, pain is not enough to be granted admittance to the hospital.
Since her blood panel and comprehensive metabolic panels did not show anything to justify hospitalization, she was sent home. Because, as our PCP told us, our insurance company would not have approved the reimbursement absent tangible data to justify the cost of hospitalization.
48 hours later, at a different ER, my wife was diagnosed with sepsis and an extensive internal infection and underwent life-saving emergency surgery. She could have died while some doctors and my insurance company haggled over procedures and costs, but fortunately she is now on a 6 week recovery schedule.
Note that the government had no involvement in the decision. The insurance company and doctors were. That is my *direct* experience, with the current system, which--I am confident--has been shared by many, with worse insurance than we have.
That is why I have simply no sympathy for those who try to paint the situation as one where we have to avoid government interference, at all costs. It's a smokescreen, and most sensible people realize that.
I do not claim that the solution lies in nationalized health care delivery, but I am just as sure that it does not lie in more of what fails us, which is a poorly regulated insurance market.

Umletmethink said...

Sirfab...I agree the system is broken, as do most Americans, including doctors. And most Americans believe that a goverment takeover of it is not the answer. The insurance company came between your wife and her doctor. I assure you the government won't do it any better. There are solutions that would preserve our rights and bring about real change that does not include "more of what fails us."

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