Early in Peter Jackson’s film “The Fellowship of the Ring,” Frodo Baggins discovers that he possesses the One Ring — forged thousands of years earlier by the Dark Lord Sauron, and lost when he was defeated in a great battle with elves and men. When told by the wizard Gandalf of the evil threat that the Ring now poses, Frodo is incredulous. “But he was destroyed. Sauron was destroyed!” Frodo insists. “No, Frodo,” Gandalf says. “The spirit of Sauron endured.”
I’ve felt much the same sentiment watching American politics over the past few years.
I was born in 1961 — the year the Berlin Wall went up — and grew up in the midst of the Cold War. The vast Soviet Union and other communist countries were on one side, and the United States and Western Europe were on the other. The balance of power was always precarious, the threat of nuclear conflict ever present.
Throughout my youth, I read about life in collectivist regimes. The story was always the same: Political leaders promised a utopia of “equality” and “prosperity” for “the people.” But survivors and escapees described lives of austerity, privation, political oppression, imprisonment and death on a massive scale.
So when I watched the Berlin Wall come down in 1989, and the collapse of the Soviet Union not long thereafter, I — like millions of others — thought we were witnessing the end of collectivism.
Alas, no. Its spirit endured.
The selfishness and stupidity of Venezuela’s socialist regime under Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro destroyed what was once the wealthiest country in South America, and the suffering of the Venezuelan people offers a contemporary lesson in the catastrophic results of socialism. Still, its defenders make excuses and ignore reality.
The United States has long been a model of innovation, and proof of the improvement in the human condition that is possible when political and economic freedoms are combined with hard work. But even while people suffering in stultifying conditions are desperate for the liberties we enjoy, too many of our politicians — particularly on the left — are ready to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Medical care is just one example.
Then-President Obama — with help from congressional Democrats — forced Obamacare down the country’s throat in 2009. Sen. Bernie Sanders was something of an outlier calling for “Medicare-for-all” in 2016. Today, most prominent Democrats have jumped on board. 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris announced this week that government should control health care. What about private insurance? “Let’s eliminate all of that,” she said blithely. “Let’s move on.”
But government-provided health care isn’t progress. And we needn’t look to Venezuela to see that.
England’s National Health Service is constantly in crisis. Doctors there describe care as “battlefield medicine” in “third-world conditions,” with 12-hour waits at some emergency rooms. Wait times for non-emergency treatment are also long (six months or more) and getting longer; the number of people on waitlists for care is expected to exceed 5 million — nearly 10 percent of its population — in the next two years.
Our neighbor to the north fares no better. Canada has socialized medicine for its population of 37 million, and wait times for care run anywhere from four months to over a year. Over 1 million Canadians were on waitlists for some kind of medical treatment last year. (Unless you can afford to go elsewhere. Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams caught flak for traveling to Florida for heart surgery in 2010. Socialism for thee but not for me ...)
American health care is expensive, but innovation that saves lives costs money. And our medical care does save lives. Americans have among the best cancer survival statistics in the world. According to Dr. David Chan of UCLA, it is because of what we are willing to spend. Chan told Forbes magazine, “Very expensive cancer treatments such as the new immunotherapies for cancer are more widely available in America than in countries with national healthcare where there are restrictions based on cost/benefit and budget caps.” (Canada, by contrast, was ranked 13 out of 17 peer countries for cancer survival rates.)
Even here in the U.S., populations like veterans and Native Americans are proof of the fatal folly of government-provided care. Hundreds of thousands of veterans have died waiting for care from Veterans Affairs (caught up in the bureaucracy that MSNBC reporter Chris Hayes is so enamored with). Indian Health Service is chronically underfunded; Native Americans suffer through and die from illnesses, treatment delays and provider errors that should shock anyone reading the available reports. (The bitter saying among Native Americans is “Don’t get sick after June” — the month when the IHS funds typically run out.)
If our government cannot afford decent quality care for fewer than 20 million living veterans or 5 million Native Americans, what makes anyone think that it will be able to provide care for the entire population of the United States — more than 320 million people?
It won’t. As England and Canada demonstrate, the results will be chronic shortages, waitlists, rationing and a decline in the quality of care.
The enduring popularity of socialism — despite its long and evident history of failure — proves that bad political philosophies never die, no matter how many people subjected to them do.