Jonah Goldberg

Let us for a moment adopt the proposition that health care is in fact a "right," as pretty much every liberal politician has told us for at least a generation.

Now let us consider how President Obama's proposed health-care bill would work. Under his plan, an official body -- staffed with government doctors, actuaries, economists and other experts -- will determine which health-care treatments, procedures and remedies are cost-effective and which are not. Then it will decide which ones will get paid for, and which won't. Would a 70-year-old woman be able to get a hip replacement, or would that not be considered a wise allocation of resources? Would a 50-year-old man not be permitted an expensive test his doctor wants if the rules say the cheaper, less thorough one is sufficient? The Democrats call this "cost-controls." But for the patient and the doctor, it's plain old rationing.

Now, imagine if the government had a body of experts charged with figuring out what your free-speech rights are, or right to assemble, or worship. Mr. Jones, you can say X and Y but not Z. Ms. Smith, you can freely assemble with Aleutians, Freemasons and carpenters, but you may not meet in public with anyone from Cleveland or of Albanian descent. Mrs. Wilson, you may pray to Vishnu and Crom, but never to Allah or Buddha, and when you do pray, you cannot do so for longer than 20 minutes at a time, unless it is one of several designated holidays. Please see Extended Prayer Form 10-22B.

Of course, all of this would be ludicrous beyond words.

Which is the whole point. Health care cannot be a right, because rights cannot come from government. At best, they can be protected by government. The founders understood this, which is why our Bill of Rights is really a list of restrictions on the government in Washington. "Congress shall make no law . . ." is how the First Amendment begins.

Now, this isn't to say the government can't or shouldn't provide health care to everyone. You have no right to a highway or sewer system, but there's nothing wrong with government providing such things. Indeed, the Constitution says that government should promote the "general welfare." And people of good will can argue whether or how much government-provided or subsidized health care fits under that mandate.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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