By Arnold Kling
[Update: My reactions to the President’s health care speech are here.]
The folks at Cato think that President Obama’s speech to school kids was creepy. I agree.
You know what it reminds me of? In 7th or 8th grade, during the Vietnam War, my junior high school brought in the “Up With People” singers. They sang upbeat, patriotic songs “Freedom isn’t free; freedom isn’t free; you’ve got to pay the price, you’ve got to sacrifice, for your liberty.” Like we should not protest Vietnam, but do our duty. I resented the propaganda. Afterward, in the hallway, I made some negative remark. The most gorgeous girl in our class sneered, “Arnold, you have no soul.” That was the part that made it traumatic.My point is that it seems like I’ve always resented having schools be used to stir up patriotism and respect for political authority. What if I had been a kid during Obama’s speech, and I made some sarcastic comment? Would I have been ostracized by fellow students? Criticized by the teacher? Sent to the principal?
I don’t think I could rely on support for freedom of speech. There are a few 1st-amendment absolutists left, but not many. A friend of mine said he thinks that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey should “pay the price” for stating his pro-market views on health care. I can remember when the left felt sorry for people whose political beliefs caused them to suffer economic repercussions (I have in mind the Hollywood Ten). Of course, you have a right to boycott Whole Foods if the CEO’s politics tick you off, but I don’t think you should be so righteously proud of doing so.
So, tonight he speaks on health care. The way I look at it, our system is already mostly socialized. To me, HSA’s count as market-oriented health care, but the usual employer health plans do not. So the way I look at it, if this were a football game, the other team already is in the red zone and they’ve got the ball. The fans are yelling loudly on both sides, but if the ball moves at all, it is only going to be a few yards closer to a socialist touchdown. The Democrats are arguing among themselves over what play to call, and Obama is going to give them a Knute Rockne speech to try and hold them together.
The big shock would be if he advocated something that rolls back some of the socialism in the existing system. But obviously he is not going to do that with respect to Medicare or Medicaid. The most he could do is advocate taxes on employer-provided health insurance. If he says we have to do that, then I will say that the speech exceeded my expectations.