Paul calmly replied that he's not in favor of letting the man die. A physician who practiced before Medicare and Medicaid were enacted, Paul noted that hospitals were never in the practice of turning away patients in need. "We've given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves and assume responsibility for ourselves," he observed. "Our neighbors, our friends, our churches would do it."
Both Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have condemned the response from the Paulistas in the audience and endorsed a more active role in government in health care.
Still, it's amazing how quickly status quo bias kicks in. Since the 1960s, it has become a given not only that the government should be more involved in areas like health care and poverty but that these problems remain intractable because the government has not gotten more involved. That's the premise behind so many of the anti-libertarian questions at the GOP debates. Any rejection of the assumption is derided as a right-wing effort to "turn back the clock."
Well, let's do just that for a moment. Charles Murray, my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, notes that the most remarkable drop in the poverty rate didn't come after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty but when President Eisenhower ignored it. Over a mere 12 years, from 1949 to 1961, the poverty rate was cut in half. Similarly the biggest gains in health coverage came when government was less involved in health care, i.e. before the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1966. Duke University Professor Christopher Conover notes that in 1940, 90 percent of Americans were uninsured, but by 1960, that number was down to 25 percent.
Blitzer's specific error was to use "society" and "government" as interchangeable terms. People need shoes. But that doesn't require the government to provide shoes for everyone. Similarly, poverty rates should go down. But does that mean it's the government's responsibility?
Maybe the answer is yes. But if it is, the burden of proof that the government can do better than "society" should fall on those who, in effect, want the government to win the future by "investing" in shoes -- rather than on those of us who are open to the idea of turning back the clock.