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Trampling the Leaders - A Change We Can Believe In

Professional groups that don't care what their own members think.

By Petrarch  |  August 18, 2009

One hundred years ago, the first faint stirrings of what would become today's socialists and leftists were beginning to be heard.

In the closing years of the Industrial Revolution, economic life was predominantly "every man for himself" in a way we would find hard to imagine today.  The great factories were not very safe places to work, nor were they expected to be.  The products that came out of them would today be viewed as very dangerous.

On the other hand, compared to the backbreaking manual farming done by the factory worker's fathers and grandfathers, the emerging industrial life was pretty good and was getting better all the time; peasants yearn to leave the farm for sweatshops unto this day.

Into that maelstrom of change stepped the social reformers - writers and philosophers who hoped to awaken the higher minds of their readers and spur mankind onward to perfection.  In his famous book The Jungle, Upton Sinclair told the sad story of a laboring man in Chicago's unsafe, unhygienic slaughterhouses, abused by his supervisors and exploited by capitalist pigs.

As the author told interviewees while writing his book, "I'm here to write the Uncle Tom's Cabin of the Labor Movement!"  The plan was for America to be shocked and horrified at the conditions of the factories and immediately agitate for socialism and stronger unions.

The book was published and became an instant bestseller.  America was indeed shocked and horrified at the conditions of the factories - because of the food they were eating.

Most readers didn't give a hoot about the poor slob whacking away at the cow carcasses, but they cared very much that those carcasses were dirty, disease-ridden, and potentially deadly to America's diners.  Popular outrage eventually led to the establishment not of a socialist paradise but of the Food and Drug Administration.  As Sinclair sadly related years later, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

Eyes Being Opened

Something similar is happening this summer as congressmen all across the fruited plain are being torn apart - verbally, for now - by constituents enraged over the un-American and potentially murderous clauses written into the "health care reform" bill.  The new law represents a revolutionary change in our medical culture.

For thousands of years, doctors have had a tradition of doing everything possible to sustain life without regard to cost.  This made it simple to decide whether to do a procedure - if it might prolong the patient's life, you did it no matter what.

This was OK when there wasn't really much that doctors could do, because sitting up with patients while they died of fever didn't cost much.  It was OK so long as people paid their own medical expenses just as they pay their other expenses, because if someone couldn't afford a treatment it wasn't given.

Our current health care system disaster grew out of two factors.

First, medical insurance means that patients don't spend their own money for medical services.  Instead, they expect someone else to pay for any treatment their doctor recommends, which means that the patient doesn't really care about what that treatment might cost.

Second, modern new medical technology allows many patients to be saved who would have died in earlier years.  There are many more opportunities to spend money - as we saw with the woman who stuck the state of California with the huge bill for taking care of her 8 premature babies.

Fifty years ago, this wouldn't have been a problem: she couldn't have got pregnant with octuplets in the first place, and if by some miracle she had, she and all the babies would have promptly and cheaply died.  Only because of lifesaving but extremely expensive equipment was she and her children able to even have a chance to survive and go on to consume even more of someone else's money.

These two forces have produced a situation in which medical costs are taking an increasing share of our economy.  The cost of medical care helped bring down GM and Chrysler; it is projected to destroy budgets of state, local, and ultimately federal governments in the coming decades.  Private businesses are bending under the crushing load of their employee's health insurance premiums; as a result, employer-funded health insurance is becoming more rare.

When something can't go on, it won't, and we're getting to that point.  Most Americans agree that Something Must Be Done.  The question is, what?

The Rubber Has Met The Road

The central problem with Obamacare is that our lawmakers have admitted that someone besides insurance bureaucrats has to limit what we spend on health care.  If people paid for their own medical care, this wouldn't be an issue - they'd limit their own consumption, just as we all limit what cars we buy based on what we can afford - but since the new law will have government paying for most of it, government wants to control what treatments you can have and what you can't.  As more and more people read the bill, they're getting upset at what government wants to take away.

Enforced euthanasia counseling for the elderly?  An unelected board of bureaucrats who decides when you're too old to receive any treatment beyond painkillers?  Financial incentives for employers to dump their employees off into the government insurance scheme?  Congress explicitly exempting itself from having to obey any of the rules and restrictions forced on everyone else?  Anything that could be expected to infuriate and outrage voters is found buried in the depths of the thousands of pages no Congressman has had time to read.

Americans are not just realizing their betrayal by the elected officials who claim to represent them - politicians who betray the voters who elect them are hardly news.  Most Americans expect politicians to be natural-born liars and self-centered cheats.

The eye-opening part of these events is how Americans have been betrayed by trusted organizations.

For example, the powerful American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) claims to represents the interests of America's elderly; since those same folks have, collectively, a lot of money and free time, AARP carries massive clout in Washington.  AARP has come down foursquare on the side of Obama's plan, despite the fact that, if passed, the rationing based on the patient's age and "end of life planning" it advocates will hasten the death of AARP's own members!

AARPers may be old, but they're not all senile; we're seeing video clips of oldsters roasting their AARP representatives along with their congresspersons.  USA Today reports that 60,000 AARP members have quit the organization due to its support for Obamacare; nothing says "pain" to a nonprofit org like canceled memberships.

Doctors have made the same discovery and have reacted in the same way.  Rather than defend the independence and finances of its members, the American Medical Association has endorsed the Democrats' bill, consigning its membership to indentured servitude to Uncle Sam.  What happened then?  The AMA may not be America's premiere medical group for much longer, as Breitbart reports:

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons issued the following statement from Kathryn Serkes, Director of Policy and Public Affairs, in response to the AMA's endorsement of House Bill 3200:

"The American Medical Association has sold out patients and the profession by endorsing House bill that supports government medicine.

"Why did the AMA do it? For a few dollars increase in Medicare reimbursement rates. In effect, it's told patients, 'It's about the money, stupid.'

"We don't think that a miniscule raise -- one that can be revoked at any time on Congressional whim -- is worth selling out for government control of medicine. The AMA has sold patient choice, patient privacy and patient control to the highest bidder."

Discontent is spreading as Congress Daily tells us:

Concerned that the American Medical Association has taken too tepid a position on Democratic healthcare reform plans, a coalition of state medical associations and specialty organizations is breaking from the country's largest physicians' group to mount its own push against the inclusion of a public insurance option in any overhaul bill. [emphasis added]

Power Corrupts

We conservatives spend so much time arguing against the evils of unaccountable Big Government that it's easy to forget that government is far from the only organization with a built-in tendency to commit evil.  Big business can be, and often is, every bit as unaccountable, greedy, evil, and oppressive as government.

The only reason - the single, solitary reason - why big businesses are not usually as oppressive and totalitarian as their all-too-human bosses would love to be is competition.  As long as you have the free choice to leave a badly run company and buy from anyone or no one, bad companies die and good ones prosper.

Those industries held in low public regard tend to be those who've succeeded in making it very hard to change vendors - cellphones, cable TV, even airlines (via frequent-flyer programs), whereas industries which face open competition tend to be better liked.

If you find Wal-Mart frustrating, you can just go to K-Mart instead, so both -Marts try very hard to keep you at least contented with their service and wares.  The problem with government is that it is very hard to change to a different supplier - you have to have a dangerous revolution or move to a different country with a vast amount of bother and emotional disjunction.

For some time now, many professional groups have had one primary association.  There's the AMA; there's the AARP; there's the ABA for lawyers; the Chamber of Commerce; and so on.  Whenever there is no real competition in a market space, the monopolist will not have to be responsive to customer needs.

Indeed, we see the AMA and AARP supporting Obama's bill against the interests and against the loud and angry protests of their own members.  Hey, what are the dissidents gonna do, found their own group?

Well, just maybe - and not before time.  Will the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons displace the AMA?  Will a new group arise to challenge the AARP?  Once, IBM ruled the computing world; then came Microsoft and Apple, and then came Google to perhaps dethrone them.

Before people will reject their "leaders," they must first realize they're being lied to and betrayed.  Without meaning to, Obama's push to remake one sixth of our economy in great haste has revealed just how deep that betrayal goes.

Somewhere, there are ambitious young politicians and nonprofit executives watching the giants of public policy getting shellacked by soon-to-be-ex-members and recalling the advice of French politician Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin:

There go my people, I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.

Mr. Obama promised to make America look at things in a new way and he's certainly succeeded - but not quite in the way he intended.