If you caught any of the Republican Convention, you noticed strong themes around the need for personal responsibility. In their view, the government does more harm than good when it shields its citizens from the consequences of their own actions. They view the assumption of personal responsibility both as a virtuous and moral goal as well as a natural right. They see the "Nanny State" as anything that prevents people from feeling the impact of their decisions and as the root of many social and fiscal ills.
Textbook descriptions of the difference between the Republican and Democrat parties will often cite that the Republicans are the party of personal responsibility while the Democrats are the party of social responsibility. This often comes up in the debate over Welfare as the Republicans identify Welfare as a corrupting force that damages the individual that receives it while it saps society of funds that would be better spent elsewhere. They see Welfare as people getting something for nothing.
So does it strike anyone as odd that the party of individual responsibility is so opposed to the Affordable Care Act?
It really struck me while watching the Republican convention that the connection of the ACA to personal responsibility is not being made. At least it's not being hammered home by the Democrats when they defend the ACA. Although many Republicans will always oppose the ACA simply because it was championed by Obama, surely there are independent (and moderate Republican) voters out there that are big fans of personal responsibility and would respond favorably to descriptions of the ACA as the "Accountable Care Act"? The biggest piece of personal responsibility legislation to pass since Bill Clinton's Welfare reform?
And on the topic of Welfare reform, the ACA is also a strong reform piece in its own right. To the Right, what's wrong with welfare is that it corrupts its recipients by giving them something for nothing. Aside from its financial cost, many Republicans are opposed to the concept of Welfare simply because (in their view) it rewards people for doing nothing. But the ACA puts an end to that in the healthcare realm by requiring everyone to have insurance. That ends the "free lunch" that the old way of distributing healthcare used to propagate.
Before the ACA, if you didn't have insurance, you could get care without contributing anything. No one was forced to take responsibility of their health care, but instead were reliant on society to cover them. The fact is that if you don't have insurance, you can get health care from an emergency room when you need it. Basically, anyone without health insurance was on the biggest welfare program in the country, with everyone else subsidizing their lack of personal responsibility. But now, thanks to the Democrats and President Obama, everyone will be required to chip in what they can to help support their health care.
What's really surprising to me, is how absent this discussion is from the public discourse. No one ever describes the ACA in the terms of Welfare Reform. No one describes the Individual Mandate as a bulwark for personal responsibility. Truthfully, I never thought about the Individual Mandate in the terms of personal responsibility until I listened to the Republican convention. Maybe it's time we turn their arguments back upon them?