Slavery, Universal Healthcare, and a Very Naughty Senator

This bad boy needs a time out.

Yes, he really said it.

I saw a quote on Facebook yesterday that left me speechless. The statement was so insane that I couldn't even begin to form a response to it. Senator Rand Paul had, during a Senate committee hearing, equated the concept of a right to healthcare with slavery:

With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to health care, you have realize what that implies. It’s not an abstraction. I’m a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery. It means that you’re going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses.
Basically, once you imply a belief in a right to someone’s services — do you have a right to plumbing? Do you have a right to water? Do you have right to food? — you’re basically saying you believe in slavery.
I’m a physician in your community and you say you have a right to health care. You have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you?That’s ultimately what the right to free health care would be. (

I was so stunned by what I was reading that I had to make sure this wasn't being made up, taken out of context, cherry-picked, doctored (see what I did there?) to turn something far less outlandish into such a steaming heap of idiocy. So I googled the words "Rand Paul Right to Healthcare Slavery," and found this video of him saying it. The context was a hearing on a bill by Bernie Sanders to create a single payer health care system (the kind enjoyed by most other first world nations) for the United States, rather than the crazy quilt of regulated private insurers under which we currently suffer. The statement has been embraced by right-wing websites, while leaving progressive bloggers and news sources almost as speechless as I still am when I attempt to formulate words to respond to it.

Even now, sitting on the couch trying to write a blog about it, I keep coming up against how patently crazy this formulation is. In now way is anyone proposing universal healthcare intending that anyone associated with the health industry should be treated as the ancestors of his constituents once treated Africans, forcing them to leave their homes and work for free. (Yeah, I went there, Mr. Senator from a slave state.)

To be fair, I have to acknowledge that Rand Paul has a history of extemporaneously saying nutty things when the microphones are on. That's true of many public figures, though most of them do it accidentally. Senator Paul drops these sputter-inducing bombshells in the context of making speeches. A politician with Presidential aspirations ought to know better. A President thinking out loud during a speech could start a war.

The most skilled, most experienced political figures choose their words carefully. That's why President Obama so rarely makes use of the soaring rhetoric that made him such an inspirational campaigner prior to 2009: when a policy maker says something off the cuff, it can have implications for the entire nation. Sometimes those remarks are a watershed for progress, as when Vice President Joe Biden's remarks about same-sex marriage triggered the great thaw in American attitudes toward this basic right. At other times, however, they can lead to heightened security measures being taken by hostile nations.

Realizing this, it occurred to me that what Rand Paul really needed during that hearing was someone to gently guide him to a corner of the room for a time out, a few minutes to cool his jets, then come back to the table when he was thinking clearly once more. Maybe then he wouldn't find himself in the uncomfortable position of putting supporters of universal healthcare like the Pope and Jesus in the same category as those antebellum Kentuckians I alluded to earlier.

Tellingly, my visceral response to reading the healthcare slavery remark was almost identical to how I felt during my last class on Friday. I was trying to teach a parachute movement activity to a first grade class, an activity that I had taught successfully to every other kindergarten through third grade class in the school, but I just couldn't get it started. The reason: a child who insisted on blurting out, as loudly as he could, whatever came to mind. This is nothing new where this child is concerned; he's been doing it since his first day of kindergarten. I can't send him away--unless he's endangering another child, I have to keep him in the room--so I put him in time out, something he resists just enough to break the flow of the lesson, but not enough to require me to call the office (a much more significant disruption in that lesson flow). He's out for a minute or two--more than that, and it's counter-productive, as he starts to act out quite loudly from wherever he's supposed to be calming down--and then he comes back for just long enough to lose it again. Most classes, the effect on the rest of the children is minimal, and I can get most of the lesson taught. Friday, though, he was in rare form, infecting more of his classmates every time he acted out, so that the entire class suffered and was ultimately incapable of learning the lesson. What this child needed was to be isolated from the entire class, and there was no way for me to do that.

The feeling it left me with--the sense of "Why am I even trying?"--was stirred up by Rand Paul's 2011 remarks on healthcare slavery. It's not that I think I should have any influence over the very junior senator from Kentucky. I know he doesn't read my blog; heck, I'm lucky if my posts get clicked two dozen times. It's that so many people buy his brand of libertarian paranoia, enough that he's on the shortlist for the Republican nomination for President. And this after six years of "debate" on healthcare. I put debate in quotes because it's felt more like a teacher trying to get the attention of a pack of ravenous feral toddlers than a rational discussion. But I think you get the picture: I'm not feeling sanguine about the prospects of that first grade class learning music, or this nation seeing its way to a sensible, streamlined universal healthcare system anytime soon, because sadly, as in the case of my school, there's nobody in the principal's office willing to ride herd on the bad boys who can't stop spewing toxic bullshit.


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