Todd Young and The Common Good
Posted on May 5, 2017
I was in the Senate Chamber, watching Todd Young, the freshman Senator from Indiana, give his inaugural speech to his colleagues from the floor of the Upper Body. About a block south, as you walk through the Great Rotunda, through Statuary Hall, and in the House of Representatives, Republicans and Democrats were fiercely debating legislation to replace Obamacare with something, anything, better.
Todd Young's Inaugural Speech
Young focused his address on the concept of the Common Good.
It was a good address, and particularly appropriate given the debate raging in his former place of employment.
The Freshman Senator from Indiana is a former Marine and a thoughtful and moderate (in temperament if not political philosophy) public servant who focused less on throwing rhetorical bombs and more on achieving measurable results when he served in the House.
In his address, he mentioned John Wooden, the iconic coach of the UCLA Bruins and former Hoosier, who made a career of teaching high functioning athletes the value of teamwork as his teams won more NCAA basketball championships than any other coach in history.
It says a lot about Young that he mentioned Wooden but didn’t mention Bobby Knight, the volatile and fiery coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, who made news last year for endorsing Donald Trump.
The Common Good
The concept of Common Good is not unfamiliar to political theorists, starting in ancient times.
Aristotle posited the idea of common interest to help his fellow Athenians to distinguish worthy political structures that benefited all citizens from those that benefitted only the ruling class.
Thomas Aquinas believed that the achieving the common good was the only and sole purpose of government and law. In City of God, Saint Augustine cautioned against those who would retreat from public life and asked the question: “Is human wellbeing found in the good of the whole society, the common good?” He answered with a resounding yes.
For James Madison, justice and the common good were closely tied together, making the case that at the end of the day, delivering justice was the most important role of the government, because that helped to insure the common good.
Young, in his speech, cited another important political theorist (and practitioner):
I’ll borrow from eighteenth-century political theorist and English statesman Edmund Burke, for he brightly illuminated this notion of a common good. Burke argued that the common good could only exist where rule of law exists. And rule of law, properly understood, requires a shared allegiance by which people entrust their collective destiny to others who can speak and decide in their name. This, said Burke, is a partnership between the living, the unborn, and the dead.
The common good requires individual cooperation and compromise.
Burke noted that individuals are not simply a compendium of human wants, and individual happiness is not realized by merely satisfying those wants. Our own happiness is linked to one another’s happiness.
Our purpose, then — — our duty — — in both our private and public capacities, is to preserve a social order which addresses the needs of generations past, present, and future. . . This is our duty.”
It comes with the health care debate where the concept of Common Good is most put to the test.
The Common Good In Health Care
I will put the essential question out there: Does the government have a duty to intervene in the health care market place to compel the Common Good?
Can the market work better to provide for the common good, or does socialized medicine provide the greatest assurance that the health care needs to all of our citizens (and some non-citizens) be met?
And where does the government and the political class draw that line?
This has practical, philosophical and legal ramifications.
Can the government take over the health care delivery system, under our Constitution as currently constructed? That’s the legal question.
Is government-run health care a proper furtherance of the Common Good? That’s the philosophical question.
Does socialized medicine actually work better than health care provided by market forces? That’s the practical question.
Adam Smith, another political theorist who thought a lot about this stuff, believed that the free market was the best way to insure the Common Good.
Republicans, in their heart of hearts, are all about the Wealth of Nations. They might not prostrate themselves at the altar of the free market, but they bow down an awful lot.
They also distrust the government to run anything, especially health care.
Democrats have no such qualms and have pushed aggressively for government-run health care since at least the Truman Administration.
My former boss, Denny Hastert, told the story about how he and Hillary Clinton argued about the proper role of government as they debated the best way to move forward on her health care plan in 1993 and 1994. She simply believed that the government could spend the people’s money more effectively than individuals could.
Hillary’s health care plan, for those who don’t remember, actually made it illegal for private citizens to get better health care outside of the government plans, even if they used their own money.
Socialized medicine is all about everybody getting the same type of health care no matter who they are, how much money they have, what their habits are, how healthy their lifestyle is, and if they are employed or not.
From a certain angle, this makes sense. The Common Good requires that we all get access to health care.
But from a practical standpoint, it makes no sense.
Socialized medicine hurts innovation. Socialized medicine leads to long wait times. Socialize medicine means diminished quality.
This does not help achieve the Common Good.
Obamacare didn’t go as far as Hillarycare. It doesn’t prohibit rich people from actually getting better health care if they want to pay for it.
It is also not full-on socialized Medicine.
Perhaps that’s why none of the industries who typically weigh-in on this type of legislation – the Hospitals, the Doctors, the Insurance companies -- supported the Republican legislation to repeal it.
They don’t want the disruption that comes with the dismantling of a marketplace that is already pretty unstable to begin with.
Republicans in the House have to defend how their new legislation will further the Common Good. The reaction, thus far, from the social media world has been less than positive.
Todd Young’s Republican colleagues in the Senate have to take what the House has done and then modify it to better answer the attack from the left that somehow this legislation has been a betrayal of the Common Good.
If they can’t pass legislation that makes the American people more comfortable that the replacement bill is good for the Common Good, they will be in a world of hurt in 2018.