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Barrier to better health care: Republican definition of freedom

Republicans oppose the health-care law's insurance mandate because it curbs freedom. Do they oppose traffic lights, too?

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If traffic lights were invented today, the Republican Party would be against them.

After all, aren't traffic lights a perfect symbol for government imposition on individual freedom? The government takes our money to build and maintain them, and then uses them to tell us when we can stop and when we can go.

But anyone who drives in a city knows how necessary traffic lights are. In fact, they increase our freedom of movement, making it possible for us to move at a reasonable pace through a crowded city. Try driving through cities in parts of the world where they don't have traffic lights or where the social norm is to ignore them. Who has greater freedom: Those unrestricted by traffic lights who sit for hours in a traffic jam, or those who obey the law, and get where they want to go?

This thought experiment about traffic lights points to how simplistic and wrong-headed current Republican rhetoric about freedom is. Freedom is about rights, choices, and opportunities. Government action, whether through laws or taxes, does not necessarily restrict freedom. As with traffic lights, it can enhance freedom, and we need to be thoughtful, not reflexive, in how we view what we ask of government.

Take a more complicated and politically contentious issue: the mandate to purchase health insurance. This is clearly an imperfect mechanism, as private insurance is an imperfect product. Nevertheless, does an insurance mandate really take away freedom, or does it enhance it?

What kind of freedom do we really want?


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