From the Los Angeles Times, Oct. 26: “Pam Kehaly, president of Anthem Blue Cross in California, said she received a recent letter from a young woman complaining about a 50 percent rate hike related to the health care law. She said, ‘I was all for Obamacare until I found out I was paying for it,’ Kehaly said.”
Oh, come on. Who did she think was going to pay for it? The tooth fairy? Did anyone really think that 30 million more people were going to get health insurance, and that our premiums were going to go down?
Like so many others, this young woman saw only one side of the equation. She loved the benefits promised by Obamacare (which really sound awesome), but never thought about the costs. She is a useful idiot who can’t seem to wrap her head around the concept of consequences.
Useful idiots. These are the people who were recently asked by fake “man on the street” reporters from a comedy show if they preferred Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act. All but a handful had a preference for one or the other, oblivious to the fact that they are one and the same.
Then we have the smart useful idiots. These are people who have brains and may even know how to use them, but who are so blinded by their ideologies, arrogance and/or prejudices that they are incapable of seeing the problems and shortcomings of their grand schemes.
One thinks of Capt. Edward Smith, brave and accomplished seaman, who so bought into the idea that his great ship, the Titanic, was unsinkable that he ignored the common sense wisdom that there’s no point in tempting fate. At least he had the good grace to go down with his ship and the 1,500-or-so people he killed.
Observers who pay attention to both the benefits and the costs of the policy decisions we make, who understand that “cost” and “benefit” are two sides of the same coin, despair when trying to deal with people like this. They resolutely refuse to recognize the obvious no matter how strenuous the warnings of impending doom.
It is more than inattention; it is willful blindness to the truth staring them in the face. Only when it’s too late to do anything about the disaster do they realize with a shock that there is a price to pay.
Perhaps this is the story of every nation that declined or perished. Not long ago, National Geographic told the story of an epic, world-changing blunder. China was the greatest sea-going nation of the early 15th century, built the largest wooden ships ever constructed and once sent out an exploratory armada manned by 100,000 sailors. But for reasons that are debated to this day, it called its fleet home and destroyed not only the ships but their plans and shipyards, and forbade its sailors from leaving Chinese waters.
China, “the Middle Kingdom” in the sense of being at the center of everything, had decided not to reach out to the world; rather, it would require that the world come to it. This allowed the Europeans to slowly dominate the rest of the globe, and then, by the 19th century, China itself.
By ignoring the costs of its turn inward, China condemned itself to 400 years of decline, then a century of humiliation and exploitation, only recently ended.
And now, is it our turn? We are more than $17 trillion in debt, and yet we are told that we must continue spending ourselves into bankruptcy lest some obese soul suffer a cut in his food stamp allotment, or some hygiene-impaired yahoo suffer the pain and embarrassment of toenail fungus, or some kid with no business going to college should, in fact, not go to college.
It is as if we have turned into a nation of useful idiots. But useful to whom? I leave that question to you, with the suggestion that the answer lies in another question: Who gains from such folly?
To those who would take on that next grandiose national project, or continue with a scheme that isn’t working quite the way it was advertised, I ask you: What’s the cost, not just in the here-and-now, but in the long term? And not just in dollars and cents, but in all those things that make life tolerable and, we hope, enjoyable?
In light of all the incompetence and broken promises and deliberate low-ball estimates and blown-out budgets and unintended consequences of 80 years of welfare-state boondoggles that we have suffered, “Trust me” is no longer an answer that even terminally foolish, highly useful idiots will accept.
Kenneth D. Gough of Elizabethton is president and general manager of Accurate Machine Products Corp. in Johnson City.