Friday, September 16, 2011

Paul Krugman on GOP and Value of Life: Compassion No Longer in Fashion

In the New York Times today, Paul Krugman notes that American political debates today are increasingly centering on fundamental moral issues, and political commentators haven't yet caught up with that fact.  Krugman focuses on what happened at the GOP debate in Florida recently, when Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul if a young man should be allowed to die because he couldn't afford health insurance:

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Representative Ron Paul what we should do if a 30-year-old man who chose not to purchase health insurance suddenly found himself in need of six months of intensive care. Mr. Paul replied, “That’s what freedom is all about — taking your own risks.” Mr. Blitzer pressed him again, asking whether “society should just let him die.”

And the crowd erupted with cheers and shouts of “Yeah!”

The incident highlighted something that I don’t think most political commentators have fully absorbed: at this point, American politics is fundamentally about different moral visions. 

As Krugman points out, how Republican crowds are now handling moral questions about the value of life signals a sea-change in the thinking of American conservatives: whereas they once bought into the idea of "compassionate conservatism," of the obligation of a decent society to provide safety nets for the poor, they now defiantly cheer for death--particularly when those whose lives are under the gun are living on the economic margins of society:

Now, however, compassion is out of fashion — indeed, lack of compassion has become a matter of principle, at least among the G.O.P.’s base.

And what this means is that modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society we’ve had for the past three generations — that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the “common hazards of life” through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. 

The incidents of hooting and hollering for death at recent GOP debates remind me of historical sketches of how Romans behaved at the Coliseum.  To me, they signal the slide of American society into barbarism.

How and why people of faith who claim to value life can be such an active part of this slide to barbarism--continuing to vote Republican and maintaining that the Republicans are the party of life--is increasingly baffling to me.  What more will it take to open these folks eyes, I wonder?

For those pondering these questions with me, don't miss this painful account at Daily Kos of what guitar-maker Steve Patience's sister Susan thought and felt when she heard the GOP crowds cheering death the other evening.  Steve Patience died earlier this year from cancer, and was uninsured.

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