It came about two thirds of the way through last night's Republican presidential debate. I didn't watch, since I'm laid up with an abdominal hernia and my stomach doesn't need any further challenges. Facebook, though, proved its worth as a medium for genuine information; my news feed lit up with the indignation of at least one friend who found the audience reaction to one of Wolf Blitzer's questions profoundly disturbing.
Here's what happened. Blitzer was grilling Ron Paul about national health insurance. He posed what was no doubt intended to represent an extreme case. You can watch the video at http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/09/tea-party-debate-audience-cheers-idea-of-letting-sick-man-without-insurance-die-video.php, but I've transcribed it below.
"A healthy 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides 'You know what? I'm not gonna spend 200 or 300 dollars a month for health insurance, 'cause I'm healthy, I don't need it,' but, you know, something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it. Who's gonna pay for, if he goes into a coma. Who pays for that?"
Paul responded that "In a society where you accept welfarism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of him."
"But what do you want?," Blitzer shot back.
"But what he should do is whatever he wants to do, and assume responsibility for himself," said Paul. "My advice to him would [be] have a major medical policy but not be forced..."
"But he doesn't have that," Blitzer reminded him. "He doesn't have it, and he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?"
"That's what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody..." is what Paul was saying when the audience broke into a round of furious applause.
"But Congressman," Blitzer interrupted, "are you saying that society should just let him die?"
Paul, to his credit, answered "No," but he was nearly drowned out by a few loud voices from the audience calling out "Yeah!," with supportive cheers from many others. As I listened to the video at about 10:00 last night, I was reminded, and promptly stated on my own Facebook page, that the expression "chills ran up my spine" is not a figure of speech. I was nauseated, sickened, horrified, and in near despair. This was the audience at a debate held by one of our two major political parties (albeit with "Tea Party" backing), and a significant contingent was cheering the idea of letting somebody die. Even though I was in pain and really needed to go to bed, I put out a feeler to see if others were as appalled as I was.
The thread that followed has run, so far, to 51 comments. Everybody who chimed in was also horrified—even a few whom I know to be Republicans. There was some doubt expressed about whether this was really the view of the Republican party, or of even more than a lunatic fringe within it. (It did sound to me like a significant portion of the audience was cheering.) One poster pointed out that Blitzer's question was really quite ingeniously phrased (which it certainly was). Another poster told the first one that it was her responsibility, as a Republican, to make sure that her party doesn't fall into the hands of extremists: a position with which I strongly agree.
I've slept on it now, and I just want to add the following. I was once thirty years old and had a good job. Fortunately, it came with health insurance, and I didn't have to contribute anything on my own; it was a pure fringe benefit. I say fortunately because I was paying back significant loans from my education, and on my "lecturer" salary I could not have spared 200 or 300 dollars a month for health insurance. I was healthy, and given the choice, I would have had to turn the insurance down.
But there is more. Christianity—the religion to which the majority of "Tea Party" members claim to belong—is founded on grace. Grace is embodied in the idea that God acted for us decisively despite the fact that we had done nothing to deserve such action. Consequently, the Christian Gospel requires us to do the same. The Gospel stands or falls on whether we accept the reality of radical, unconditional grace and internalize it. You cannot be a Christian and cheer the idea of somebody being left to die, for any reason whatsoever. Period. End of discussion.
I've spoken here before about the way that the Christian Gospel has been clashing publicly with a very different Gospel: that of Ayn Rand, who would indeed have applauded the idea of letting someone die as preferable to letting society lift a finger to help. I have said before that these two Gospels are incompatible, and the cheering at last night's debate perfectly illustrates that point. The people who cheered are not Christians. They may go to church, tithe and take communion, but they are still not Christians. You can only be a Christian by the grace of God, totally beyond and above your own deserving. As a well-known Christian parable illustrates, that man in a coma without health insurance is Christ. A country that would choose not to help him is rejecting Christ. And that's really all that needs to be said.