There is an axiom that I learned years ago form an old mentor of mine, Dr. David McKenna, who served as president of Spring Arbor College (my alma mater) and who was also one of two individuals on the short list for Secretary of Education under the newly elected president of the United States: Ronald Reagan.
Dr. McKenna is perhaps one of the most gifted orators I have ever known. His mastery of the podium rivaled that of the Great Communicator who nearly chose him as a member of his cabinet. He was one of those rare leaders who have clearly been blessed by God with both the Midas touch and a golden tongue.
Here is a tidbit of Dr. McKenna's wisdom that I will never forget: "The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior."
That's it. Pretty simple and pretty straight forward isn't it? Not a lot of fluff or verbosity. In a short sentence of nine words we are reminded to consider the obvious -- If you want to know what is going to happen in the future it is best to look backward to the behavior of the people in question. What they did in the past is likely to be exactly what they will do in the future.
With this as context, I would like to suggest that we sift the idea of a "public option" for healthcare through the grid of Dr. McKenna's wisdom. In other words, let's look at the past and ask ourselves an obvious question: Are there any examples of "public options" that might be predictive models for what we can expect (good and bad) from another government run program? .
Let's look at the "public option"of State run education for example.
The good news is that access has increased and essentially anyone who wants to go to school or college can. The bad news is that the schools and colleges these people now attend are terrible.
The idea of public funded/government controlled schools is in many ways a complete and unmitigated failure. Look around at the consequences of this idea and the havoc it has wreaked on our health and fortune and our happiness and freedom for the past 50 or 60 years. Many students can't read or write or perform the most elementary of mathematical tasks and they graduate anyway. Many teachers can't teach and they receive tenure anyway. Standardized tests have been "recalibrated" (i.e. dumbed down) because of decades of declining scores. Grade inflation makes a student's GPA essentially meaningless in assessing his/her potential for collegiate success. Because of ACLU threats, the good teachers that do try to minister within this mess are required to perpetuate a "morally neutral" curriculum that essentially leaves these same teachers watching helplessly on the sidelines as our kids go about the grizzly business of raping and killing each other. Columbine and Virginia Tech at times seem to be more the norm on the nightly news than an aberration.
At the behest of government run education, we have taught teenagers that the concept of sin is stupid and then we wonder why our sixteen year old girls show up for their sophomore year pregnant and proud. We've handed out condoms at colleges from coast to coast and told our next generations of leaders to be "healthy" while it never seemed to dawn on us that we should share with these young people the Department of Health and Human Services data that warns of an epidemic of STDs running rampant in the dorms in which they will live.
Public education has touted the merits of the "liberal" arts -- a robust and open exchange of ideas as the ideal -- while our elected public servants boldly burn the flag of academic freedom declaring that they "won't tolerate the intolerant."
So, here is the question: If the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior why would we think that government run hospitals would be any different than government run education? If the State supported classroom is a screwed up mess lacking any sense of moral clarity and if the same classroom refuses to accommodate our unalienable rights of religious liberty and freedom of speech then why would we think that anything different would prevail in a government funded hospital room?
Let me put it another way: If you can't speak of God at the curbside of your local schoolhouse then why would you think that you will be able to sing a hymn to God at the bedside of your dying grandmother in the public house-of-healthcare? Moreover, why would a doctor be permitted to talk about Christ's forgiveness with dying patients in the local hospital when that same doctor is prohibited from talking about Christ's birth with healthy students in the local high school? Or how about this more timely example: If a priest can't speak of God as the giver of human rights in Ted Kennedy's local public school then why would you think the same priest would be permitted to administer last rights to Ted Kennedy at his local public hospital?
If it is funded by the State then it has to be totally secular - Right??
The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior… If we want to know where government funded healthcare will lead then all we have to do is to look down the path already trod by government funded education.
Ideas have consequences and the ideas being debated right now are not new. They have been in play for years and we, therefore, have a clear predictor of what lies ahead. Unfortunately the medicine we are about to take has not made us well in the past but to the contrary it seems to have made us sick - perhaps even sick unto death.