The debate last night was pretty boring, but Barack Obama had one of his dumbest moments ever. When asked if health care is a right, responsibility, or privilege, Obama answered "it's a right". Let's look at all the ways that's stupid.

First, what level if health care is required by Obama's "right"? Top-of-the-line Western medicine? Such health care is a right for whom? Just Americans? Or everyone in the world? Are we violating the rights of Chinese peasants by not invading China and providing Western style health care? Or would Obama do this if he thought he could?

Second, setting aside what Obama thinks would be nice in an ideal world, where in the Constitution is this right to health care established? He's running for President, not philosopher-in-chief, so I assume when he says "right" he means it within the American Constitutional framework and not any other moral or legal construction. So, where's the health care clause of the Constitution? Obama is supposedly a Constitutional scholar, so maybe he can enlighten me. When did the people and the states write health care into our national compact?

Third, think about what it would mean for health care to be a right. When you consider the ramifications even an inch beneath the surface you run into all sorts of problems.

Every right one person has imposes an obligation on someone else:

  • Right: Free speech. Obligation: We have to let you talk, even when you stay stupid or dangerous things.
  • Right: Free religion. Obligation: We have to let you go to any church you want, or none at all, even if we think you're corrupting our country.
  • Right: Free assembly. Obligation: We have to let you meet with your dumb friends.
  • Right: Due process. Obligation: We have to give you a trial, even when it's clear that you're guilty.
  • Right: Jury trial. Obligation: We have to take time out of our lives to serve on juries.

You get the point. With the exception of the right to trial-by-jury, I think all the rights specified in the Constitution create negative obligations on the rest of society. Your right obligates me and the government to not do anything to impede it. In contrast, positive obligations require me not just to leave you alone, but to actually do something for your benefit.

So, back to health care. Does Obama mean that we have a right to buy whatever health care we can afford, without interference from the government? Doubtful. What he really means is that people (only Americans? Africans? who?) have a "right" to have other people pay for their health care. Obama's health care right creates a whole host of obligations on the rest of us, not merely to refrain from interference with the right, but to act positively to enable it.

  • Taxpayers will be obligated to pay for others' health care under threat of force
  • Doctors will be obligated to provide health care at the government's direction
  • Insurance companies will be obligated to cover or not cover people or ailments at the government's direction
  • Employers will be obligated to pay for health care of whatever kind mandated by the government

The issue of health care really cuts to the core of the difference between leftists and conservatives.

Conservatives believe that "rights" express our fundamental freedoms that cannot be taken away by anyone. The only obligations created by conservative "rights" are negative obligations that require you to stay out of my business.

Leftists believe that "rights" express obligations that the government can impose on us by force. Leftist "rights" create obligations on us to spend our time, money, and effort on other people regardless of our own desires. That's not freedom, that's slavery.

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