"The problem with Americans is that they think that if a little is good, a lot is better." Quantity over quality.
So said one of the wisest men I have ever known ... my father. Born and raised in Kentucky, he turned 20 years old in 1930, an adult during the Great Depression. He joined the United States Navy in 1935 and spent a career there, touring the world several times before retiring. He passed away in 1994, in a different America than we see in 2013.
The international and multi-cultural context of his cultural observation was not lost on me.
We Americans have gone through our trends. As different as they each are, they are all connected with the same cultural string: If a little is good, a lot is better. If you find out that soy is good for your heart, eat nothing but soy. If 30 head of cattle can graze on grass in a field, why not corral 300 in the same field, and feed them grain and corn? If you can catch salmon swimming freely in a stream, you can fence 50 times as many salmon in a body of water of your choosing and under controllable circumstances. Is carrot juice good for you? Drink nothing but carrot juice (how many people did you see who turned orange during that trend?).
What makes these trends stop? Generally, some undesirable outcomes of our quantity indulgence: quality issues. Grass-fed beef is better for you than grain or corn-fed beef. Farmed salmon has antibiotics and dyes, making wild salmon a healthier choice. Carrot juice makes you turn orange. Whether or not the soy you eat helps or actually hurts you may depend on how it's grown or processed. Not all soy is equal.
The 2012 presidential election outcome stunned some economic experts. Americans were faced with the choice between the most philosophically stark difference in candidates seen in modern political history. President Barack Obama, who, by any previously accepted measure of success, was the biggest statistical failure of a president in modern history. But he touted a message of economic security, under government control, and at the nebulous expense of "millionaires, billionaires and corporate jet owners." Republican candidate Mitt Romney pushed the more historically axiomatic American virtue of economic freedom at the risk of economic failure ... the quintessential pro-American culture message.
Americans re-elected Obama. And in doing so, they seemed to affirm the newest American trend: Economic security over freedom.
The Affordable Care Act, also known as ACA or ObamaCare, appears to be the proverbial poster child for the current American indulgence trend of security over freedom. Arguably President Obama's only accomplishment during his first term, Obama assiduously avoided even mentioning it during the 2012 presidential campaign, except when he attempted to hang it around Romney's neck as a political millstone, citing Romney's health care program in Massachusetts as his inspiration.
Security over freedom, like all of our other trends, has some undesirable consequences. We're seeing them now in the disastrous rollout of the ACA:
- The first day the government's "Exchange" website was up, it was fraught with so many technical and capacity problems that a total of 6 people, in the entire United States, were able to purchase the health insurance mandated by the government to comply with the new law. The website alone is now the subject of Congressional hearings, with fingers of blame pointing in many directions
- The media, up until now relatively protective of the Obama presidential legacy, is playing endless loops of Obama campaigning for passage and public support of his signature legislation, saying, "If you like your plan and your doctor, you can keep your plan and your doctor. Period." It turns out that many Americans are being forced to change health insurance plans they have liked for several years, because the government has determined that these plans don't cover what the crafters of ACA believe they should cover.
- As a consequence, Obama is being accused of overtly and directly lying to the American public. He has been relatively unresponsive to these accusations, allowing instead his spokespeople to respond. His political problem is that this accusation is coming from both his historical political opponents, AND his current supporters.
What makes ObamaCare different from carrot juice or grass-fed beef is that the government has forced both the need to choose, and the actual choices, on us. It is law. We cannot simply go out and purchase what we want if we decide it's no longer trendy, nor even if it suits our lifestyle or life. We have been offered the security of health care insurance as the government has deemed we need it. And it has come at the cost of our liberty.
Will this spell economic decline? It seems that we have made it a part of our culture.
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin