Don’t Worry, Be Healthy

A tree fell in the political forest not long ago, but it seems almost nobody heard it. The "tree" was a speech by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, given at the University of Illinois. Mrs. Clinton told her audience that the debate over health insurance boils down to one issue: freedom. "We are not free," Mrs. Clinton said, "if we have to live in terror of disease and accidents stalking ourselves and our families." On one level, this is a rather silly statement. Freedom from accidents? Who can guarantee that? On another level, it's a very dangerous statement. In a single sentence, Mrs. Clinton offered a new definition of freedom to justify a massive new government program. Her speech was an echo of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous speech in 1941 propounding what he called the Four Freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom from fear (of outside aggression), and freedom from want. Many commentators say that the Clintons are styling their presidency on the Roosevelt legacy. And indeed, Mrs. Clinton seems to be expanding Roosevelt's well-known four freedoms by adding a fifth one. But the very process of adding new freedoms is changing the definition of the term. Roosevelt's first two freedoms—of religion and speech—fit the classic definition of freedom as protection from excessive government intrusion. Freedom from fear of outside aggression fits the classic definition of freedom as protection from violence and invasion. In these cases, we're talking about freedom as the right of citizens to conduct their lives without outside interference. But Roosevelt's fourth freedom marks a crucial shift. Freedom from want is not freedom from outside interference; instead, it calls on government to supply citizens a positive benefit—to provide for their economic needs. This is an abrupt twist in the meaning of freedom. In fact, it no longer really means freedom at all but rather coercion: The government can guarantee freedom from want only by coercively taking money away from some citizens in order to give it to others. This novel definition of freedom spawned Roosevelt's New Deal and eventually the modern welfare state. Today the Clintons hope to vastly expand the welfare state through government-mandated health coverage. And to sell it to the public, they're taking a page right out of Roosevelt's book—couching their agenda in the language of freedom. But just as in Roosevelt's day, the real result will be increased government coercion. Government agencies will decide what kind of health services you may receive and how much you must pay for them. Idealistic social planners forget that the unique characteristic of the state is coercion. In the words of Romans 13, the state alone bears the power of the sword. As a result, we should weigh carefully which functions we hand over to the state. Every function put under state power is removed from the arena of voluntary transactions—where it is shaped by economic, personal, and moral choices—and transferred to the arena of sheer force. To label this vast expansion of state power a new "freedom" is not only misleading, it's also the height of hypocrisy.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary