Fred Barnes? Modest Proposal

Fred Barnes? Modest Proposal

Alan Johnson: Fred Barnes’s Modest Proposal

The Weekly Standard Executive Editor and Fox News contributor Fred Barnes does not strike me as a cruel man. His book Rebel in Chief championed the notion of an ownership society, praised Bush?s medicare prescription drug benefit (against much right-wing opposition), and argued government could enhance personal freedom. But it is hard not to see some cruelty in his recent intervention in the health care debate.

In the WSJ Barnes praised Mrs. Thatcher, the British conservative prime minister, for ?bravely cut[ting] National Health Service spending in the 1980s.” He attacked President Obama?s health plan on the grounds that, well, it would make more people healthy.

“Look”, he wrote, the plan ?offers a cornucopia of new benefits: free preventive care, coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, guaranteed issue, no lifetime or annual benefit caps, and subsidies for insuring 30 million people now uninsured.? All this would ?increase the use of health-care services.?

Well, indeed. One imagines Jonathan Swift asking Barnes if he can?t follow up his column with A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Ill in America from Being a Burden to The Taxpayers and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick.

Barnes may not realize it, but Thatcher?s NHS cuts meant utter misery for millions of people and an early death for thousands in the 1980s. At the end of the Tory decade, nearly 100,000 were waiting over two years for treatment.

Since it was elected in 1997 the Labour Government has tripled health investment. By the end of Labour?s first term, 125,000 people were waiting over nine months. By the start of its third term the number stood at just eighty-six. The overall results are not perfect, some money has been wasted, and the drive to improve and personalize NHS care must be continued. But there are over 44,000 more doctors and over 89,000 more nurses.

If your doctor suspects you may have cancer, you will see a specialist within two weeks. (In the 1980s, Mrs. Thatcher?s cuts meant people sometimes waited many months, with predictable results.) The NHS saves 9,000 more lives a year from cancer than in 1996 and 31,000 more lives a year from heart disease.

In 1997, half the NHS estate dated from before 1948. Today that figure is down to 20 percent. There are 100 new NHS walk-in centers and over 650 one-stop primary care centers.

Emerging from social democratic roots, the neoconservatives rejected the counter-cultural excesses of Jerry Rubin and the foreign policy failings of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter, but they generally supported the social policy demands of the AFL-CIO. Not today it seems.

A one-nation conservative might view health reform as an expression of our “moral sense” and our “benevolent affections.” They would see it as likely to improve “the ability of men and women to live together socially and civilly under capitalism.” And because they knew that we can “describe the history of modern economics as chapters in the degradation of the capitalist dogma” they are comfortable with the idea that government intervention is sometimes a necessary condition for a society to be “simultaneously virtuous and free,” and “organically wed order to liberty.”

The late Irving Kristol said all that.

But these ideas are now anathema to the neoconservatives and can only be preserved by the social democrats.

Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

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