This past Monday night, I watched the Republican debate sponsored by the Tea Party. With any of these Republican debates, I feel like I'm in another reality … one that is out of touch with ordinary Americans who need jobs or who suffer in poverty. But I listen because I want to be an informed citizen.
This week, however, I was truly appalled by responses to one question from the CNN host Wolf Blitzer. He asked Ron Paul, who is a physician, about the hypothetical case of a 30-year-old male who decided that he didn't want to buy health insurance, but suddenly goes into a coma and needs intensive care. Paul said this case should not be the government's responsibility. "That's what freedom is about, taking your own risks," Paul said, but he was drowned out by audience applause as he added, "this whole idea that you have to prepare to take care of everybody …" This was greeted by loud audience applause.
Then Blitzer asked, "Are you saying that society should just let him die?" Before Paul could answer, the audience started shouting "yeah" -- and that was followed by laughter.
Paul disagreed with the audience on that, but noted that churches often took care of medical costs before the advent of Medicaid, and that drew wide audience applause.
If you want to hear the actual exchange, here's the link.
I sat there dumbfounded… some of those Tea Partiers in the audience actually cheered the idea that a young man should die in that circumstance! Yes, that young man was irresponsible in not having health insurance, assuming he had the money. But many people can't afford it, and that's one of the major reasons for health care reform (which Republicans decry as "Obamacare"). And if people can afford insurance, this case illustrates one reason for "mandates" -- requiring people to buy insurance so the emergency room (which is required by law to treat the sick who come) doesn't pick up the cost.
The whole scene at the debate was totally devoid of any sense of societal responsibility, social justice or the common good.
And Paul -- who at least did not advocate letting the young man die -- was totally unrealistic about health care in churches! Are you kidding? Charity from houses of worship may be a nice idea, but it cannot replace the resources of the government.
Yesterday, I interviewed a scholar about religion and elections … who is not himself a Catholic. And we shared our mutual horror at set of responses. "I really miss hearing a strong Catholic social justice message," he said. "The bishops used to be strong on that. Where are they?"