Thursday, March 18, 2010

Idaho Throws Down the Gauntlet on the Insurance Mandate

Yesterday Republican Governor Otter signed the "Idaho Health Freedom Act" - a bill whose purpose is:
"[to codify] as state policy that every person in the state of Idaho is and shall continue to be free from government compulsion in the selection of health insurance options, and that such liberty is protected by the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Idaho. The bill removes the authority of any state official or employee from enforcing any penalty which violates the policy. It also tasks the office of the Attorney General with seeking injunctive or other appropriate relief , or defending the state of Idaho and its officials and employees against laws, enacted by any government, which violate the policy."
Senator Monty Pearce, who guided the legislation through the Idaho Senate, explained the world view behind the bill this way:
“This is a sad day that we as a state need to bring forward this legislation to protect ourselves from an overreaching government. We have really changed as a nation in 220 years. People used to come into Ellis Island dirt poor, nothing but the clothes on their back. And their attitude was ‘give me freedom, that’s all that I ask.’ And they were happy for it. Today, we want the government to feed us, we want them to guarantee us medical care. I’m proud of the state of Idaho that we would consider legislation like this. We’re saying we’ll be independent. We don’t need you. We’ll take care of ourselves. And we can do a better job of doing it.”
I totally disagree with Senator Pearce's view of health care as something that individuals should provide for themselves. But I admire the spirit of frontier individuality that he evinces. I looked up New Plymouth, the town of 1,400 Senator Pearce is from. It was founded in 1895 by a group of Chicagoans who were dissatisfied with city life who wanted to live in a more natural and independent rural manner.

The spirit of New Plymouth represents what's best (the independent, can-do spirit and love of the natural world) and worst (the failure of compassion and vulnerability to political paranoia) with U.S. political culture. I've written elsewhere about in how Shane, the iconic U.S. western, the two heroes evince two ideals of frontier responsibility: Shane, the brave gun-toting defender of liberty, and Joe Starret, the brave community builder.

The U.S. at its best embraces both visions of responsibility. The tragedy of the health reform process is that they've been ripped apart and put into violent rhetorical opposition.

I continue to hope that the Democrats can pull themselves together to pass the decidedly imperfect but better-than-the-status-quo health bill. But even if that effort fails, the constitutionality of the "Idaho Health Freedom Act" could still get to the Supreme Court. If it does I hope and expect that the often polarized Court will rise to the occasion and recognize that frontier independence and caring for each other through universal health care are values that can and must be harmonized.


DMS Training said...

I continue to hope that the Democrats can pull themselves together to pass the decidedly imperfect but better-than-the-status-quo health bill.

Jim Sabin said...

Dear DMS Training -

Your comment slipped by when it arrived - I was out of town at the time. I'm sorry for the delay in posting it.

Happily, we have an answer now to the hope you expressed on March 20!