Obama And The Left’s Single-Issue Libertarianism

Yesterday President Obama issued an odd statement commemorating the Supreme Court’s divisive abortion decision:

Today marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that protects women’s health and reproductive freedom, and affirms a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.

I am committed to protecting this constitutional right. I also remain committed to policies, initiatives, and programs that help prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women and mothers, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption.

And on this anniversary, I hope that we will recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights, the same freedoms, and the same opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.

But for the backdrop of Obamacare, one might be most curious about what possible government “policies, initiatives, and programs” the president might have up his very full sleeve to “encourage healthy relationships.” Or even about what rights, freedoms, and opportunities he thinks his and our daughters now lack compared to those enjoyed by our sons.

But in our current situation the backdrop of Obamacare looms large, all but trivializing such comparatively modest curiosities. Shouldn’t this president, intellectual that he is reputed to be, or at least the staffer who wrote this statement realize how gratingly insincere, or maybe only incoherent, it sounds coming from the sponsor of perhaps the greatest intrusion on “private family matters” in the nation’s history?

As Sally Pipes observes, a family’s right to freedom from government intrusion

suddenly becomes a lot less relevant for Obama, Pelosi and other liberals when medicine moves outside the abortion clinic. In those cases, government’s right to choose trumps a woman’s right to do the same….

How about a woman’s right to choose whether or not to purchase health insurance? Here, again, Obama, Pelosi and their allies think that choice should take second place to government fiat….

How about a woman’s right to choose to purchase a simple, basic, catastrophic health plan?…

How about a woman’s right to choose how to use her Health Savings Account?… Rather than encourage this vehicle for personal responsibility, Obamacare is making it less attractive. As of Jan. 1, HSA funds may not be used to purchase over-the-counter medications.

Sally Pipes is a well-known conservative critic of Obamacare, but the left’s highly selective libertarianism-of-convenience has also been subjected to the ridicule it deserves from some of Obama’s progressive pro-choice supporters.

William Saletan highlighted the incoherent inconsistency of the left’s attitude(s) on the perils of government intrusion on SLATE back in the fall of 2009. Discussing the heated objections of pro-abortion groups to a proposal that would bar coverage of abortion under federally subsidized insurance — such a bar, they argued, would take away abortion coverage from women who already have it in their private plans, Saletan noted:

The argument these groups make is perfectly logical: If you standardize health insurance through federal subsidies and coverage requirements, people might lose benefits they used to enjoy in the private sector. But that’s more than an argument against excluding abortion. It’s an argument against health care reform altogether.

The nuances of the abortion-coverage fight can be tricky, but the core of the problem is simple. Each side is willing to accept a compromise in which no federal tax dollars fund abortion. Pro-choicers have one definition of what this means: Federal money can subsidize any insurance plan, as long as the insurer doesn’t use these subsidies to directly cover abortions. Pro-lifers have a more strenuous definition: Federal money can’t subsidize any plan that covers abortions, since the insurer would simply take the money with one hand while writing abortion checks with the other. In a private insurance market, each side could stick to its own principles and interpretations. But a socialized market throws them together. To get what they consider neutrality, pro-choicers have to make pro-lifers pay indirectly for abortions. And to keep what they consider clean hands, pro-lifers have to make abortion coverage federally unsupportable and therefore, in a subsidy-dependent system, commercially nonviable.

So the left’s argument against abortion exclusion is the right’s argument against socialization….

Referring to the debacle of President Clinton’s abortive (if you’ll pardon the expression), Saletan went on to point out that

[t]he famous Harry and Louise ads, sponsored by the Health Insurance Association of America, were carbon copies of the pro-choice message on abortion. “The government may force us to pick from a few health care plans designed by government bureaucrats,” said one ad. “If we let the government choose, we lose.”

Reasonable people can differ over the contours of government health care policy, but I don’t think there can be any reasonable disagreement over the fact of philosophical incoherence at the core of contemporary liberalism’s view of what President Obama has just attempted to affirm as “a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.”

Say What?