Monday, March 22, 2010

The Campaign Against Medicare

Reagan album

Many of the same arguments used against Medicare (a successful program) are still in use against healthcare reform legislation today.   

With Reagan’s 1961-62 campaign against Medicare, a symbolic line was crossed, the line separating business booster from political operative.

Beginning in 1952 the Truman Administration, through Federal Security Administrator Oscar Ewing, had begun advocating medical care for the aged—what would become Medicare. This was a retreat from Truman’s earlier calls for universal health care for all Americans. The implacable opposition of the AMA and other pressure groups made universal health care an impossible goal. By scaling back the ambition of the health care plan to encompass only aged Americans receiving Social Security, the Truman Administration hoped to mollify the conservative opposition.
In 1952 the first bill was introduced in Congress to create a Medicare program. The AMA immediately announced its opposition and worked tirelessly and successfully to prevent any such program from advancing in the Congress.
In 1958 the debate over Medicare acquired new intensity as Congressman Aime Forand (D-RI) introduced a bill in the Ways and Means Committee that was drafted by the Medicare-advocates who, in 1965, would play key roles in the eventual enactment of the legislation. The Forand bill was the most serious effort to introduce Medicare, and the AMA mobilized a massive campaign against it, quintupling its lobbying budget to fight Forand. Ultimately, Forand’s bill was bottled-up within the House Ways and Means Committee, but its popularity with both politicians and some segments of the public (labor united behind the idea of Medicare for the first time for example) gave the AMA a real scare.
By 1960 the two groups had been at loggerheads for nearly a decade and a compromise to the conflict was proposed by Senator Robert Kerr (D-OK) and Representative Wilbur Mills (D-AR). The Kerr-Mills bill—which like the Forand bill was also drafted in part by Medicare-advocate Wilbur Cohen—sought to substitute for a federal Medicare program covering aged Social Security beneficiaries, a state-based welfare program covering only the medically indigent and the aged on state welfare rolls. This scaled-back scheme was enacted into law in September 1960.
The Kerr-Mills plan had important differences from Medicare. First, it was a welfare benefit, limited in its scope to those able to demonstrate lack of financial means. Second, the programs would be state-based, rather than federal. But most importantly, the program would be entirely optional for the states. If a state chose not to construct a health care program under Kerr-Mills, they were free to ignore the law. Senator Pat McNamara (D-Mich.)—who was an opponent of Kerr-Mills—complained at the time, “The blunt truth is that it would be the miracle of the century if all of the states—or even a sizeable number—would be in a position to provide the matching funds to make the program more than just a plan on paper.”17
On its face, Kerr-Mills had the potential to be more generous in some ways than a Medicare-type program. At the time, there were 2.4 million seniors receiving state old-age assistance, and an estimated 10 million medically indigent who were not on state welfare rolls but who were unable to pay their own medical bills. Some or all of this population might be covered, depending upon the decisions of the individual states. This contrasted with the 14 million Social Security beneficiaries at the time. So in terms of scope, Kerr-Mills was likely to be a somewhat smaller program. But in terms of types of services, and the generosity of coverage, Kerr-Mills was virtually unlimited, with the federal government pledging to pay from 50% to 80% of the costs of whatever programs the various states created. But 50-80% of nothing is still nothing; so if a state failed to create a program—or created a very stingy one (as is typical for welfare benefits)—the theoretical federal support would be likely to not come to very much. Indeed, by 1963 there were still 18 states which had never implemented Kerr-Mills, three years after the legislation was enacted, and five large industrial states with only 32% of the medically-indigent were receiving nearly 90% of the federal funds expended under the program.18
Initially, even this truncated approach to social provision was bitterly resisted by the AMA. If Truman’s universal health care plan was socialism through and through; the scaled-back Medicare proposals were just socialism’s foot in the door; and even a Kerr-Mills program would just be socialism-lite. But finally, the AMA bowed to political realities and dropped its opposition to Kerr-Mills.
At this point, in 1961-62, Kerr-Mills was the AMA’s fall-back position in its continued opposition to Medicare legislation. The AMA’s argument was that Medicare was unnecessary because Kerr-Mills was a sufficient solution to the problem of medical care for the elderly. Given the limitations of Kerr-Mills, it is not surprising that the program failed to accomplish very much in the five years before it was repealed. A cynic might suspect that failure to accomplish very much was probably just what the AMA hoped for.
In the subsequent political battles over Medicare, the AMA would deploy an alternative strategy, rather than relying on support of the Kerr-Mills legislation. Following the 1964 presidential election, the AMA developed an alternative to Medicare which they labeled “Eldercare.” This scheme was essentially Kerr-Mills on steroids. It promised much more generous benefits than Medicare, but again limited to only the welfare population rather than to all aged Social Security beneficiaries.
In any case, the passage of Kerr-Mills in 1960 did not end the pressure for a Medicare program—as the conservatives and the AMA wished and hoped. After all, the non-indigent elderly were still in need of health care coverage and still unlikely to be able to purchase it in the marketplace. Studies at the time reported that the aged used medical services at a rate twice that of the non-aged; that three-fifths of the aged had less than $1,000 in liquid assets; and that nearly 54% of the aged lacked any form of health insurance. While opponents of Medicare disputed the precise statistics, it was clear to virtually everyone that the aged had medical-care problems that far exceeded those of the average American.
Following the defeat of the Forand bill, and the election of John Kennedy in November 1960, Medicare’s backers crafted a new version of the legislation, introduced by Clinton Anderson (D-NM) in the Senate and Cecil King (D-CA) in the House. The bill had the President’s backing and thus had acquired a sudden new dimension of political heft missing during the Eisenhower years. The AMA was thus understandably panicked by the appearance of the King-Anderson bill, after having tried to compromise Medicare out of existence with the Kerr-Mills strategy.
King-Anderson was, in terms of the Medicare program we know today, half-Medicare. It proposed to cover the costs of hospital and nursing home care, but not surgical costs and not out-patient physicians’ services. In this respect, it was scaled-back slightly from the Forand bill, which in addition offered coverage of surgical expenses. This scaling-back was a futile effort to lessen resistance to the idea of government-provided health insurance coverage.
So as 1961 dawned, the Kerr-Mills bill was established law, and the first King-Anderson legislation was pending in the Congress. The election of John F. Kennedy added new pressure to the push for King-Anderson and advocates for Medicare were optimistic that the 1961-62 session of Congress would see increased pressure for the enactment of Medicare in the form of the King-Anderson bill. Medicare was by no means a done-deal in 1961-62, even absent the AMA campaign against it. But the AMA campaign was a significant force of opposition striving to block Medicare during this period.
It is important to bear this history in mind when considering Operation Coffeecup, and Reagan’s subsequent positioning on Medicare, because it is this history that Reagan was to mythologize.

Coffee-Klatch Politics

The Woman’s [sic] Auxiliary of the AMA was an affiliated organization composed primarily of the wives of member physicians. Its 82,000 members in 1961 undertook a variety of educational, charitable, community service, and public relations tasks on behalf of the AMA. In the Spring of 1961, the Woman’s Auxiliary was asked to launch a special high-priority initiative under the title of WHAM, Women Help American Medicine. The avowed aim of WHAM was bluntly stated as: “This campaign is aimed at the defeat of the King-Anderson bill of the 87 th Congress, a bill which would provide a system of socialized medicine for our senior citizens and seriously curtail the quality of medical care in the United States.”19
The WHAM campaign officially kicked-off with a rally in Indianapolis on December 5, 1961 before an audience of 70 state Auxiliary women and 20 doctors, who were serving as WHAM advisers in Indiana. Within a month, WHAM state-rallies had been held in Illinois, Florida, Texas and Minnesota, with others scheduled for North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Kentucky during February.
The AMA’s campaign against the King-Anderson version of Medicare was a complex, extensive, and well-financed lobbying tour-de-force. Many aspects of the WHAM campaign were very public and visible. The AMA placed advertisements in major newspapers and funded radio and television spots, all deploying the usual red-brush of “socialism,” and even the specter of jack-booted federal bureaucrats violating “the privacy of the examination room.”
The grass-roots efforts were even more extensive. Under the banner of “Operation Hometown” the AMA enlisted local medical societies to propagandize against King-Anderson. Speeches, reprints of articles, pamphlets on the dangers of “socialized medicine,” news releases, and even a High School Debate Kit, were all provided to local physicians to assist in the campaign.
These were the public face of the campaign, the very visible components of the AMA’s overall strategy. But there was also a more-stealthy component to the campaign, one that depended for its success on its sponsorship and origins being hidden from the members of Congress who would be lobbied under its aegis. This was Operation Cofffeecup.
The idea behind Operation Coffeecup, as the name hints, was to arrange a series of coffee-klatches hosted by the members of the Woman’s Auxiliary. The Auxiliary members receiving the Operation Coffeecup materials were instructed to downplay the purpose of the get-to-gathers, depicting them as sort of spontaneous neighborhood events: “Drop a note—just say ‘Come for coffee at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. I want to play the Ronald Reagan record for you.”20
The idea of using women in this way—as the grass-roots defenders of medical care—tapped into a long tradition of what historians now typically call “maternalist” approaches to social reform. From the earliest days of the Revolutionary Period when the “mothers of the Republic” were thought to be special repositories of civic virtue, to the settlement movement and the campaign for Mothers’ Pensions during the Progressive Era, Americans have often viewed women as providing a kind of “motherly” succor that gives them a special claim to authority on matters relating to social welfare. Thus it was a clever tactic to have the members of the Woman’s Auxiliary and their friends and neighbors write the first-person grassroots letters to members of Congress, rather than having the largely male physician-members of the AMA do so.
The attendees at these coffees were trained and encouraged in writing apparently spontaneous letters to members of Congress expressing their strong opposition to the pending King-Anderson bill. It was essential, the attendees were instructed, that their letters appear to be the uncoordinated, spontaneous, expressions of a rising tide of public sentiment. If the letters were perceived as being part of an organized campaign—the organizers of the organized campaign told the attendees—they would be dismissed by members of Congress, who were routinely inundated with such mail.21
The kit of materials sent to each Auxiliary chapter contained:
  • A cover letter, informing the attendees that “the chips are down, in the next months Americans will decide whether or not this nation wants socialized medicine;”
  • A list of members of Congress;
  • A ten-point check-list on how to write effective letters to Congress;
  • A set of instructions to hosts in what Operation Coffeecup was and how it was to be carried out, including “Provide guests with stationery, pens and stamped envelopes. Don’t accept an ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ reply—urge each woman to write her letters while she’s in your house—and in the mood!”;
  • A report form listing the number of attendees, the number of times the accompanying record was played, and the number of letters written.
All of this material was packaged as inserts to an LP vinyl recording entitled “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine.” The 19-minute recording featured a 2,000-word, 11-minute, impassioned address by Reagan, followed by an 8-minute follow-up by an unnamed announcer. Reagan’s work on behalf of the AMA was, listeners were assured, unpaid (although there was no mention of the fact that Reagan’s father-in-law was a top official of the AMA) and was motivated only by his own strong political convictions on the issue.
The record was the focus and the central product of Operation Coffeecup. It was the motivational message from Reagan that was expected to inspire the attendees to write those spontaneous letters to Congress. The AMA pressed 3,000 copies of “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine” and distributed them to AMA Woman’s Auxiliary members nationwide. The resulting letters to Congress, the AMA boasted, were “legion.”22 At the June 1962 convention each state President presented the highlight accomplishments of her state during the preceding year. The convention was told that “Operation Coffeecup spurred many members-at-large to personal action,” and one state president reported that one of her auxiliary members was personally responsible for getting 250 people to write letters to Congress opposing the King-Anderson bill.23
Figure 2: Cover of AMA record album, author’s copy
In order to maintain the illusion of spontaneity, the AMA did not announce the existence of Operation Coffeecup or publicize the Reagan recording. The record was to be used, campaign organizers cautioned, only in the groups meeting under the controlled conditions of the informal coffees. Under no circumstances, recipients of the record were warned, were they to permit commercial broadcast of the recording.
Operation Coffeecup was kept deliberately low-key and internal to the AMA, its Woman’s Auxiliary, and the trusted friends and neighbors of the Auxiliary women. Reagan’s efforts against Medicare were revealed, however, in a scoop by Drew Pearson in his Washington Merry-Go-Round column of June 17th. Pearson titled his item on Reagan, “Star vs. JFK,” and he told his readers:
Ronald Reagan of Hollywood has pitted his mellifluous voice against President Kennedy in the battle for medical aid for the elderly. As a result it looks as if the old folks would lose out. He has caused such a deluge of mail to swamp Congress that Congressmen want to postpone action on the medical bill until 1962. What they don’t know, of course, is that Ron Reagan is behind the mail; also that the American Medical Association is paying for it.
Reagan is the handsome TV star for General Electric . . . Just how this background qualifies him as an expert on medical care for the elderly remains a mystery. Nevertheless, thanks to a deal with the AMA, and the acquiescence of General Electric, Ronald may be able to outinfluence the President of the United States with Congress.24
Reagan’s recorded remarks are quite extensive, and reveal a determined and in-depth attack on the principles of Medicare (and Social Security), going well beyond opposition to King-Anderson or any other particular piece of legislation.
My name is Ronald Reagan. I have been asked to talk on the several subjects that have to do with the problems of the day. . . .
Now back in 1927 an American socialist, Norman Thomas, six times candidate for president on the Socialist Party ticket, said the American people would never vote for socialism. But he said under the name of liberalism the American people would adopt every fragment of the socialist program. . . .
But at the moment I'd like to talk about another way because this threat is with us and at the moment is more imminent. One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It's very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project. . . . Now, the American people, if you put it to them about socialized medicine and gave them a chance to choose, would unhesitatingly vote against it. We have an example of this. Under the Truman administration it was proposed that we have a compulsory health insurance program for all people in the United States, and, of course, the American people unhesitatingly rejected this.25
And what was this frightful threat that Reagan perceived as “imminent”?
. . . Congressman Forand introduced the Forand Bill. This was the idea that all people of Social Security age should be brought under a program of compulsory health insurance. Now, this would not only be our senior citizens, this would be the de­pendents and those who are disabled, this would be young peo­ple if they are dependents of someone eligible for Social Security. . . .
It should be obvious that Reagan’s description of the Forand bill is a description of any Medicare-type program, not just a specific piece of legislation.26 The idea that people of “Social Security age should be brought under a program of compulsory health insurance,” just is the idea of Medicare.
So if Reagan and the AMA were so opposed to this “threat” of health insurance coverage under Social Security, what was their preferred alternative?
As a matter of fact, in the last session of Congress a bill was adopted known as the Kerr-Mills bill. Now, without even allowing this bill to be tried to see if it works, they have intro­duced this King bill which is really the Forand bill. What is the Kerr-Mills bill? It is a frank recognition of the medical need or problem of our senior citizens that I have mentioned. And it is provided from the Federal Government money to the states and the local communities that can be used at the discretion of the state to help those people who need it.
The Kerr-Mills bill, which was not “pending legislation” but an existing law, was the AMA position on behalf of which Reagan was working. Kerr-Mills was a state-level welfare program for the needy. Where Medicare proposals like King-Anderson offered health care coverage to Social Security beneficiaries, Kerr-Mills offered to help pay the medical bills of those on welfare, or those who could qualify as indigent given their medical expenses. (Kerr-Mills would be superseded in 1965 by the program currently known as Medicaid, which like Kerr-Mills, is a welfare program.) So Reagan—on behalf of the AMA—was suggesting that the nation should be content with welfare benefits under a Medicaid-type program as the only form of government-provided health care coverage.
This irony of the early debates surrounding the American welfare state—that conservatives were the pro-welfare faction and liberals the pro-work requirement faction—was a key dynamic in the Medicare debates, as Theodore Marmor has pointed out.27 (There was also the issue of federalism in play here, with Republicans tending to advocate state programs and Democrats federal ones.) The reason for this reversal of roles (which was also evident in the debates around the original Social Security Act of 1935) is not hard to discern. By restricting federal programs to the “truly needy” those programs can be kept small, involving few if any middle-class or upper-class Americans. But if the universalist approach of social insurance is adopted then government’s role in the provision of economic security will be massive. So conservatives were historically only too happy to swallow a little more welfare, if that meant swallowing a lot less government.
Just to show that “class-warfare” was not a political deployed only by Democrats, Reagan then made one last argument against a Medicare approach:
Now what reason could the other people have for backing a bill which says we insist on compulsory health insurance for senior citizens on a basis of age alone regardless of whether they are worth millions of dollars, whether they have an income, whether they're protected by their own insurance, whether they have savings. I think we could be excused for believing that, as ex‑Congressman Forand said, this was simply an excuse to bring about what they wanted all the time: socialized medicine.
This again shows the basic antipathy of Reagan and conservatives to one of the foundational principles of Social Security, that it is a universal program in which benefits are not tied to a means-test. And again, he reveals the irony of a conservative spokesman advocating a means-tested program, i.e., welfare, as superior to universal contributory social insurance.
The other issue here is the “foot in the door” argument. Reagan insisted throughout his Operation Coffeecup speech that if the nation adopted Medicare this would just be the opening gambit in a movement for government-sponsored universal health care coverage and—given the equation between this state of affairs and “socialized medicine”—that Medicare would thus be the first step on the road to socialism. What goes unexamined by Reagan in this context is the question of why Kerr-Mills should be any different. Why are we entitled to assume that government-sponsored health care coverage of the Kerr-Mills variety contains no danger of leading to socialized medicine but that health care coverage of the Medicare variety does? The answer to Reagan’s unexamined question again hinges on the populations involved. If we are talking about a program covering only the welfare population, then there is a built-in ceiling on participation. Or to put it less antiseptically: if we have a program for the non-poor aged, other populations may clamor for participation; but if we have a program limited to the poor, we can presume there will be little agitation to join that particular social group in order to obtain medical care coverage.28
Reagan then moved on in his argument to offer his take on Social Security, and how Social Security related to this idea of public health insurance:
They want to attach this bill to Social Security and they say, "Here is a great insurance program, now instituted, now work­ing." Let's take a look at Social Security itself. Again, very few of us disagree with the original premise that there should be some form of saving that would keep destitution from following un­employment by reason of death, disability, or old age. And to this end Social Security was adopted. But it was never intended to supplant private saving, private insurance, pension programs of unions and industries.
This language skillfully elides the distinction—central to the conceptual basis of Social Security—between contributory social insurance and a welfare-based safety net. While Social Security was not intended to “supplant” private provision, the suggestion that its purpose was to avoid “destitution” can be read two ways. Social insurance theorists and policymakers believed that the way to prevent “destitution” was by deploying a universal, compulsory, social insurance scheme in which there is no means-test of eligibility. The contrary view is that whatever social provision government makes available ought to be in the form of welfare—staving off destitution by rescuing the destitute in an economic safety net. The reason the difference matters is it determines the scope of the government’s involvement in providing economic security. In the social insurance vision the program is massive, involving the participation of virtually every employed adult in the nation. In the welfare vision the program is miniscule, limited by the number of truly poor in the country. Thus an anti-government ideology, like that propounded by Reagan throughout his career, prefers a welfare safety-net to a universal social insurance scheme in order to minimize the role of government in economic provision. So Reagan in his commentary on Medicare was also subtly trying to undermine the whole Social Security system. This too was part of his 1961 agenda. But as to the government’s involvement in health insurance coverage that, according to Reagan, can only lead to a totalitarian future:
The doctor begins to lose freedom. . . . First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government. But then doctors aren’t equally di­vided geographically. So a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him, you can't live in that town. They already have enough doctors. You have to go someplace else. And from here it's only a short step to dictating where he will go. . . . All of us can see what happens once you establish the precedent that the government can determine a man's working place and his working methods, determine his employment. From here it's a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay. And pretty soon your son won't decide, when he's in school, where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work and what he will do.
This specter of government control of the practice of medicine was never what Medicare was about. Nor was regulation of medical practice contemplated by Harry Truman in his most extravagant dreams of universal health insurance for all Americans. Medicare, as proposed in King-Anderson and as eventually enacted into law, only involves procedures for paying health care providers—it is a system for financing the costs of medical care, it has nothing to do with the regulation of medical practices. But this threat was the reliable boogey-man of all of the AMA campaigns since 1945, and Reagan used it extensively in his AMA recording.
In fairness, it is true that the Medicare program marginally regulates aspects of health care provision by the indirect effect of its reimbursement policies. In this regard, it is no different than any private insurer. When Blue Cross/Blue Shield decides it will not pay for certain medical procedures, or will only pay for a generic drug rather than a brand-name one, this affects the practice of medicine by encouraging forms of practice consistent with these reimbursement policies. So too with Medicare. But this is a far cry from the specter of an intrusive government presence in the examining room, peering over the doctor’s shoulder. It was this more apocalyptic version of Medicare’s potential effects on the practice of medicine that Reagan used to scare his listeners.
Having raised the specter of the government telling our children what they will do for a living and where they will work, Reagan offered the way out, the letter-writing campaign which would, in fact, help defeat the King-Anderson bill:
What can we do about this? . . . We can write to our congressmen and to our senators. . . . And at the moment the key issue is: We do not want socialized medicine. . . . In Washington today 40,000 letters, less than 100 per congressman, are evi­dence of a trend in public thinking. . . . Representative Halleck of Indiana has said, “When the American people want something from Congress . . . if they make their wants known, Congress does what the people want.” So write. . . . that you demand the continuation of our traditional free enterprise system.
You and I can do this. The only way we can do it is by writing to our congressman even if we believe he’s on our side to begin with. Write to strengthen his hand. Give him the ability to stand before his colleagues in Congress and say, I heard from my constituents and this is what they want.
So this was the heart of the matter. A few thousand letters to members of Congress and the ladies of the Woman’s Auxiliary could stop the inexorable march of socialism and save the free enterprise system. Well, at least, they could certainly help kill any proposal for Medicare.
Then, finally, the closing pitch, with Reagan the actor painting the portrait of an American sunset in a totalitarian world brought-on by the hell-hound of compulsory health care coverage under Medicare:
And if you don't do this and if I don't do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free.
Following Reagan’s stagecraft peroration, the voice of an unidentified male announcer then comes on to reemphasize the political nature of the pitch, and to make certain that no wavering listeners miss the point. There can be no mistaking the aim of the AMA’s attack on “socialized medicine”—it is most assuredly an attack on the principle of Medicare and the legislation then pending to enact it.
Perhaps a little background on the subject of socialized medicine will prove helpful to you. To begin with, socialized medi­cine simply means compulsory national health insurance, med­icine controlled and administered by the federal government; financed through compulsory taxation. For many years, an at­tempt has been made to socialize the practice of medicine through the Social Security tax mechanism. . . . Last year, Representative Forand attempted to establish the principle of socialized medicine by applying it only to the el­derly—at first. He, and others like him, counted on the concern we all feel for those of the aged in need of help. The Forand Bill failed. But this year, another congressman has stepped forward to lead the forces of socialized medicine: Representative King, of California. It is his measure, H.R. 4222, or the King Bill, that now threatens the free practice of medicine.
Obviously, if socialized medicine “simply means compulsory national health insurance,” then any form of Medicare (the Forand bill, the King-Anderson bill, or the legislation finally adopted in 1965) would qualify as socialized medicine. So it is clear that it was the principle of Medicare, and not a specific bill, that was the target of Reagan and his Operation Coffeecup.
The announcer then refers again to the Kerr-Mills bill as the AMA’s favored alternative approach to the issue of health care for senior citizens:
I'm sure that we all recognize that some of our older people are in poor health and some can't afford to pay for the health care they need. That's why the doctors of America strongly supported the legislation passed during the last Con­gress: the so-called Kerr-Mills law. They felt, and have always felt, that people who need medical help should get it, but that tax dollars should not be used to pay the medical and hospital bills of those who are perfectly able to pay their own. Physicians favored the Kerr-Mills law because it would help those of the elderly who need help, help them quickly, and ef­fectively, and do so without wasting either the taxpayer's money or destroying the basic American freedoms involved in our system of medical practice.
The key virtues of Kerr-Mills, the announcer went on to say, were that it was an optional program administered at the state-level, and it helped the truly needy. What he did not clearly state was that it also meant that the government’s role in ensuring the availability of health care coverage would be minimal. And what the announcer and Reagan both carefully avoided making explicit was that the Kerr-Mills bill was a form of welfare.
In any case, the desirable Kerr-Mills approach contrasted sharply, the announcer continued, with the King-Anderson approach.
Here's how it would work. The federal government would buy a limited amount of hospitalization, nursing-home care, home-health services, and outpatient hospital diagnostic services for all eligible to receive Social Security retirement payments, regardless of their financial needs. The number of days the beneficiary could receive these services is limited. And the patient would be re­quired to pay ten dollars a day for the first nine days spent in a hospital, and twenty dollars for each complete diagnostic study made. Physicians' services in the fields of radiology, pathology, physiatry, and anesthesiology would be included, plus the ser­vices of interns and residents and those serving the outpatient clinics. There is little doubt but what the program would soon be ex­panded to include all physicians' services, as well as to cover the entire population, thus completely socializing medicine in the United States. The federal government would set up the rules and regulations under which the program would operate. And every one who pays Social Security taxes would help pay the bill . . .
Of course this rough description of how any Medicare system operates was intentionally misleading in several respects. Yes, beneficiaries would be required to meet a daily co-payment requirement, which might well be “ten dollars a day”—as opposed to paying it all without a Medicare program—paying it all at a time when the average hospital stay already cost about $50 per day. In fact, in the first four years of Medicare’s operations the average cost of a day in the hospital was $54.25, of which Medicare reimbursed on average 80% of the cost.29 And the fact that the government program would only reimburse the costs for a limited number of days of hospital care did not of course mean that care would be rationed and therefore medical care would become unavailable after a fixed period. But this distinction between regulations limiting the government’s payments for medical care, and limitations in that care itself, was one which the AMA campaigns always made sure was confused as much as possible, in order to maintain some semblance of plausibility to their claim that the government intended to regulate the practice of medicine.
In any case, however misleading it may have been, this description of the mechanism of Medicare was supposed to be self-evidently scary to the wives of AMA physicians and their neighbors and friends. But lest anyone miss the point, and lest anyone doubt that Reagan and the AMA were antithetical to the Social Security program itself, here is how the announcer continued:
I'm sure many of you are wondering why there's any objection to using the Social Security system to finance medical care for the aged. Well first of all, it is a misnomer to think of Social Security as being insurance. In the Nestor vs. Fleming case heard before the Supreme Court in 1959, the Department of justice in its brief said, "the OASI program is in no sense a federally-administered insurance program under which each worker pays premiums over the years and acquires at retirement an indefeasible right to receive a fixed monthly benefit. The contributions exacted, are a tax." Many people also have the mistaken impression that Social Security benefits are paid out of accumulated reserves, similar to private insurance programs, when in truth the program is fi­nanced almost entirely on a pay-as-you-go basis, with the benefits paid out of current income. Pay-as-you-go means that the government raises, through current taxes, just enough money to pay the cost of the benefits currently due. No one prepays his own benefits. Today's taxpayers pay for today's beneficiaries. The acceptance of the King bill would actually mean that our children and grandchildren will be asked to pay ever-increasing Social Security taxes to finance the medical-care needs of the previous generations. With growing families, young people have enough difficulty trying to make ends meet without assuming the additional obligation of paying higher taxes to pay for the medical-care needs of all over sixty-five, many of whom are in better financial shape than those paying the tax.
This description of the Social Security system is a traditional form of the conservative critique of Social Security. This critique shows that Reagan and the AMA were not reconciled to the existence of the Social Security program itself, not to mention its extension to include Medicare.
Finally, the announcer closed with the same “it’s sunset in America” passage read by Reagan:
Now this is the choice we're faced with: on the one hand, we can help those who need help while preserving the right of the self-reliant to finance their own care. Or we can legislate a compulsory national health scheme for the aged, regardless of whether they need it or not. . . . Americans are being asked to choose between a system of medicine practiced in free­dom and a system of socialized medicine for the elderly which will be expanded into socialized medicine for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Your letter will help determine the outcome of this struggle. Remember what Ronald Reagan said:
[Reagan's voice comes on again]
Write those letters now. Call your friends, and tell them to write them. If you don't, this program I promise you will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. And behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country, until, one day . . . we will awake to find that we have so­cialism. And if you don't do this, and if I don't do it, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free.

The Reagan Myth and Medicare

Throughout his presidency, Ronald Reagan displayed a disconcerting tendency to prefer performance over reality and myth over historical fact. As Reagan recalled his own personal history in 1980, he had never been an opponent of Medicare and had never advocated making Social Security voluntary. To President Carter’s claims that he had in fact opposed both Medicare and the existing Social Security system, Reagan’s flip reply was “There you go again,” and that was pretty much the end of the issue. However, it is quite unambiguously the case that Ronald Reagan had a long-standing, deeply-held, strongly-expressed, political/philosophical antipathy to both Social Security and Medicare. Not only did Reagan advocate making Social Security voluntary in the 1964 Goldwater campaign, he continued pushing this position throughout the 1970s—even arguing in 1975 that Social Security should be privatized—despite his denials in the 1980 campaign that he had ever advocated any such thing. He also clearly opposed Medicare in any form in his efforts as part of Operation Coffeecup.
The fact is that Ronald Reagan played a visible role in delaying the creation of the Medicare program. In 1961-62 he helped block passage of the King-Anderson bill, which potentially might have given us the Medicare program four years earlier.30 We can also be fairly confident that when Medicare was enacted four years later, that Ronald Reagan was still deeply opposed to its creation and viewed it as the sun setting on America’s future.
In the first four years of its operation, the Medicare program paid for $17.9 billion of medical care for America’s senior citizens. This money paid 24.6 million hospital bills under Part A of the program, and 96.8 million doctors bills under Part B of the Medicare system. The Part A hospital insurance covered 246 million days of in-patient care in the nation’s hospitals during those first four years.31 It is impossible to say how much of this care would not have been provided in the absence of the Medicare program; but given that somewhere around 50% of seniors lacked any form of health insurance before Medicare, it is a virtual certainty that millions of Americans received medical care under Medicare that they otherwise would not have received, and that much pain and suffering was thereby reduced or avoided. The AMA’s assumption that all this care would somehow have been received—through Kerr-Mills or some other mechanism—was certainly a self-serving self-deception.
The cold fact is that probably millions of Americans could have received foregone medical care during the nearly four years between the December 1961 launching of Operation Coffeecup and the eventual enactment of Medicare in July 1965, if the AMA and Ronald Reagan had not been so successful in their efforts to block Medicare’s passage.
By 1980, this aspect of Reagan’s personal history had become a political liability that he did his best to conceal. There are only four possible interpretations of Reagan’s subsequent representations regarding his earlier positions on Medicare and Social Security.
We might credit him with changing his mind in the light of a decade-and-a-half of experience with Medicare, and with the realization that indeed the sun continued to come up each morning, and that Norman Thomas never ascended to the presidency. Yet he gave no indication that he had changed his mind on the principles of his conservative philosophy toward the American welfare state. It seems more likely that he was philosophically un-reconciled to both Medicare and Social Security, even if he had to soft-pedal his opposition in order to be a successful politician.
He might simply have been lying. As politicians are sometimes wont to do, Reagan might have been “spinning” his audiences during the 1980 campaign, trying to convince them that a politically troublesome fact of his past was not a fact at all.
We might be willing to grant that over time memory had dimmed the distinction in his mind between the Kerr-Mills and King-Anderson bills. Certainly we can grant the little slip of timing by which Reagan claimed Kerr-Mills was a pending alternative to King-Anderson at the time he recorded his AMA record for Operation Coffeecup. But it is simply not creditable for a presidential candidate—and a politician who had been speaking and writing on the subject for decades—to fail to understand the rather large distinction between a welfare program like Kerr-Mills and a social insurance program like Medicare. To imply that Kerr-Mills was somehow a better version of Medicare, and that was the reason he supported it in 1962, is simply not credible as a truthful report about Reagan’s past political positions. The AMA and Reagan supported Kerr-Mills in 1961-62 precisely in order to prevent Medicare from ever being enacted. The AMA and Reagan both knew perfectly well what they were doing, and it is difficult to believe that Reagan could somehow have forgotten the purpose of his work on behalf of the AMA campaign.
Finally we come to what is perhaps the most disconcerting possibility of all. It may well be the case that Reagan was so adroit at story-telling in place of analysis, and anecdotes in lieu of facts, that for him mythmaking and policymaking were often one and the same activity. When he wanted to emphasize his commitment to the state of Israel, he may have genuinely seen no harm in manufactured memories of his having played a role in documenting the Holocaust. When he wanted to argue that welfare was wasteful and often unnecessary, he may have genuinely believed that there was a “welfare queen” in Chicago who drove her Cadillac to the welfare office to pick up her multiple checks. And when he wanted to be seen as the friend of seniors and the defender of Social Security and Medicare, he may have honestly believed that his efforts on behalf of Operation Coffeecup had nothing to do with trying to kill Medicare, but rather with trying to improve it.
We cannot be sure which of these scenarios best capture Reagan’s efforts to falsify his own past. For myself, I fear Reagan actually believed many of the myths he spun around his personal and political history. And there is no myth quite so dangerous as one the mythmaker himself fully believes.


This paper has benefited from the review and comments of Professor Max J. Skidmore of the department of political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and from the thoughtful insights and comments of Professor Edward D. Berkowitz of the department of history at George Washington University.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Biblical View of Social Justice

A Biblical View of Social Justice
Posted by John Wheaton | Sunday, November 2, 2008 | 7:45 pm CT

Christian Social Justice: “Life is Just not Fair!” by John Wheaton, J.D.


Life is just not fair.

Is it fair that Tiger Woods makes millions for playing a game of leisure while the average person struggles to pay the bills working 50-60 hours a week? Even worse, is it fair that some people are born into extreme wealth and freedom while others must live and often die in dire poverty or under severe oppression? No, life is not fair; unfairness is inherent in the human condition. But life can and should be just. When human acts or omissions are at the heart of these inequities and suffering, then social injustices have occurred. Unfortunately, these injustices shame and scar our world every day. This begs the question: What should a Christian do about it?

In matters of social concern, the biblical Christian should know God’s heart well. God has a special interest in the welfare of those at the lowest end of the social ladder: widows, orphans, legal aliens, and others who are oppressed or disadvantaged in society (Jeremiah 7:5-7). Recognizing this, modern Christians must lead the world in striving for social justice by clearly 1) defining “social justice”, 2) determining key biblical principles of social justice, and 3) developing a strong position on state-sponsored social action especially as it relates to addressing the major social problems of the early 21st century.
What is Social Justice?
First, it is essential that Christians clearly define what social justice entails. On its face, the term has a positive connotation that conveys a seemingly strong sense of virtue and morality. Basing a claim on an appeal to “social justice” provides the claim holder with a degree of persuasive advantage – a kind of moral blessing on his or her political, theological, or social ideas (Nash 6). However, social justice involves much more than a superficial label or feelings of compassion. It must involve a clear understanding and delineation of each social problem, the root cause of the problem, and the best solution for the problem. In short, “Good justice requires good judgment” (8).

Generally, social justice has two key components: – “living together in communities or organized groups”, and
2.justice – “the upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor, standards, or law” (American Heritage Dictionary). Combining these two concepts, an apt, working definition might be, “Social justice exists when people get what they are due from their particular group or community.” Conversely, a social injustice occurs when people do not get what they deserve. This begs another important question: What do people deserve from their particular social group or society? Some say each person deserves an equal opportunity to work and acquire their society’s resources; others say each person deserves an equal share, or at least a basic share. As America’s founders recognized, people deserve from their society at least three basic inalienable rights specified in the Declaration of Independence: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” While these rights are not directly protected by God – He even permits some people to be born into social conditions that threaten their life, liberty, and opportunities – it will be shown shortly that He expects human societies to uphold these rights and that He holds people accountable for failing to do so.
More specifically, social justice deals with three areas of social concern:

1.economic justice,
2.remedial justice, and
3.distributive justice. Economic justice involves a society’s rules and procedures for maintaining productive, efficient, and fair commercial markets. Remedial justice, similarly, involves just and fair rules and procedures pertaining to civil and criminal (legal) matters. Put in terms of the aforementioned operative definition, economic and remedial justice assure that every person is given fair and equal opportunity to access a society’s economic resources and its political and legal systems.
While economic and remedial justice systems focus on just procedures (i.e. due process), the third area, distributive justice, focuses on fair outcomes. It is concerned with relative fairness – that all people within a society actually possess a certain portion of that society’s “benefits and burdens” (Rawls 50). Put in terms of the aforementioned operative definition of social justice, every person deserves a certain fair share of society’s benefits and burdens. Even though all three forms of justice deal with social concerns, it is this last concept of distributive justice that is most often the central topic of debate surrounding social justice issues today – that is, how should a society be structured to assure a fair distribution of burdens and benefits among its citizens?

What are the Key Biblical Principles of Social Justice?
With a clear understanding of what “social justice” entails, the next essential step for the Christian is to determine what the Bible teaches about it. While the scriptures have plenty to say about justice, it is important to distinguish passages concerning the “outcome fairness” required by distributive justice from passages involving the “procedural fairness” required by a society’s economic or remedial justice systems. It is even more important to consider each “distributive” passage in context – to understand that some social action can be mandated and performed by the state while some is to be done lovingly and voluntarily by private groups (including churches) and individuals.

Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” This and many other biblical passages make it clear that every human being has a God-given, unalienable right to life and liberty in society, which includes the right to be free from oppression and affliction, whether at the hands of human or natural forces.

Conversely, every human being, especially society’s leaders, has a God-given moral duty to protect fellow human beings from social injustices whenever and wherever it is practical to do so (Prov. 3:27-28). The prophets Amos and Micah spent much of their ministries condemning leaders in Israel for failing to practice social justice. They stressed the “integral relationship between true spirituality and social ethics” (The New Open Bible 1003). Scores of other scriptural examples and passages abound on social action and justice.

The fundamental basis for pursuing social justice goes back to the fact that every human being is created in God’s image and thus has intrinsic value. Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that God’s law can be summarized in two commandments: love God and love your neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). He explains further that “love thy neighbor” means helping people in need until they can become self-sufficient as illustrated by the so-called Parable of the Good Samaritan. In fact, all people have a moral duty to help other people who are disadvantaged in society. According to scripture, the church and the state play distinctive roles in addressing those needs.

On the one hand, the theocratic nation of Israel had a responsibility to practice distributive social justice in a statist sense as prescribed in the Mosaic Law (Old Covenant). Deuteronomy 15:1-11, for example, details how debts were to be forgiven every seventh year as one means of providing for the poor. This shows how Israeli society was expected to relieve the burden of debt on those who were unable to succeed in the marketplace of that day.

Another example of state sponsored distributive justice in Israel involved one form of tithing. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 states,

At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

This tithe was in essence a welfare tax whereby Israeli citizens were to give the equivalent of 3.3% of their annual incomes to help the disadvantaged in society – those who could not meet their own needs through agrarian or commercial means.

Even gentile nations, it seems, were expected to practice some form of distributive justice. For instance, Israel was condemned for committing another kind of “sodomy”; specifically, failing to help the poor and needy. “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy” (Ezek.16:44-50).

On the other hand, the church and individual Christians under the New Covenant of grace have somewhat different obligations of distributing resources. Since New Testament times, Christians have operated under various forms of governments and economic systems. While the church and individual Christians must be in subjection to these governing social systems, and may be able to influence civic leaders to be more just and fair, their first priority is to practice the law of love directly on their fellow man. This means to give care to anyone in need, beginning first with one’s own family (1 Tim 5:8), then fellow believers (Gal. 6:10), and even to every human being (Gal 6:10; James 1:27-2:26; cf. Rom. 13:1-10). Sharing the love and good news of Jesus Christ can and should be a part of the Christian’s sharing ministry (Matt. 28:18-20; cf. Acts 3).

Early Christians, for example, demonstrated how a system of distribution could be set up to meet the needs of everyone within a local church community (Cf. Acts 2:43-45, Acts 5:1-11, Acts 6:1-6). This communal sharing was a voluntary method of meeting pressing needs within the church. Of course, this was a far cry from the politically driven socio-economic Marxism, communism, and socialism that exist in present times, all which grant citizens the right to possess a large share of society’s burdens but only a small (though equal) share of its benefits.

The Apostle Paul similarly demonstrated how voluntarily meeting the needs of Christians in other church communities was important (cf. Acts 11:29-30, Gal. 2:10, Rom. 15:25-27, 1 Cor. 16:1-4). In fact, unlike the tithe of Israel, Paul showed that Christian giving for needy brothers in Christ was to be generous, voluntary, equitable, cheerful, anonymous, and in the name of Jesus Christ. This giving out of love instead of obligation truly glorified God. (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8-9, Matt. 6:2-4, Col. 3:17, 1 Cor. 10:31). It is helpful here to reiterate that, under the New Covenant, Christian charity was to be voluntary, not coerced by the state or any other institution.

Finally, it should be noted that the early church used great care in discerning who should receive their social support. For example, a widow was to be put on a list for permanent, life-time support only if she met certain criteria. Paul sets these down clearly in I Timothy 5:3-6: she must be at least 60 years old, “left alone” without family or presumably any other means of support, a woman of prayer, married only once, and a reputation for good works, among other things. In contrast, Paul admonishes the Thessalonians to withhold their social care to those unwilling but able to work: “if anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (II Thess. 3:6-15).

All of these scriptural examples show how God is not as concerned with perfect equality or fairness as He is with the just treatment of those who are unable to support themselves in a local community and in society at large. In this sense, life really is meant to be just… not fair. On the one hand, able bodied people are expected to support themselves. Those unable to support themselves, depending upon the severity of their condition, are provided with social safety nets beginning first with the family, then the church, and lastly, as will next be shown, the state.

What Should be the Christian’s Position on State Sponsored Social Action?
It is evident that pursuing social justice is one of the highest moral responsibilities of the church and of the individual Christian. Recognizing that life can and should be just, though not necessarily fair, Christians should be at the forefront of the effort to pursue social justice through voluntary church and charitable social work. While it is important for every believer and church to practice private, voluntary acts of charity and social justice, it is also essential that every Christian develop sound convictions regarding social action by the state.

Christians should be at the forefront of encouraging state-sponsored, democratic and, what some would deem “conservative” social values. Not only the value of giving wealth and resources to aid the truly needy in society, but also, to name a few, the just and biblical values of protecting private property rights and ownership, maintaining a small but efficient governmental bureaucracy, encouraging a strong work ethic and a free market economy, defending the traditional family and the rights of the unborn and infirmed, promoting a strong national defense and a protective foreign policy that preserves our national interests while defending human rights, and promoting free speech and religious tolerance. [Though I would like to defend these conservative ideals as decidedly biblical and Constitutional, present time and space limitations do not permit me to do so here – perhaps in a future paper.]

Of course, Christians have little or no influence over state policy in most non-democratic societies. In such cases, unfortunately, the Christian has no choice but to quietly acquiesce to the governing authority – except in matters of conscience – or risk the loss of life, property, or the limited liberties he or she may have under the regime.

However, in a free and open society like the United States, Christians can and should influence social policy through their voting, being involved in party politics, forming public interest groups, serving in government, and participating in lawful demonstrations.

Many Christian pro-life groups, for example, are committed to using political means to end the abominable injustice of killing unborn children in America. In fact, immoral abortion laws will never be overturned in the U.S. without rigorous and legal political action being taken by a powerful coalition of Christian and other anti-abortion groups.

Some argue, however, that Christian individuals, advocacy groups, and churches are too involved in American politics. They say spreading the gospel, not gaining political power, should be the primary concern of the Christian and the church. Of course the gospel should be primary, and Christians must not seek to build a theocracy or wield their power and influence in a way that shames God or the gospel. But it is not an either-or proposition. Relinquishing governmental control to others so that Christians merely have “power under” as popular scholar and pastor Greg Boyd suggests, is altogether foolish and immoral (Goodstein, “Disowning Conservative Politics”). It imprudently puts Christians outside the gates of democratic power and influence – a place they have every right and responsibility to be, and a place where they can effectively protect the rights of their families and their fellow man, most notably, the poor and oppressed (cf. Prov. 31:8-9). As one parishioner asked rhetorically after hearing Pastor Boyd’s recent assertion that the church should step out of politics, “So why NOT us? If we contain the wisdom and grace and love and creativity of Jesus, why shouldn’t we be the ones involved in politics and setting laws?” (Goodstein, “Disowning Conservative Politics”). Another disgruntled parishioner exclaimed, “You can’t be a Christian and ignore actions that you feel are wrong. A case in point is the abortion issue. If the church were awake when abortion was passed in the 70’s, it wouldn’t have happened. But the church was asleep” (Goodstein, “Disowning Conservative Politics”).

The church and individual Christians in America must be citizens who are fully awake and aware, engaged in the political process at every level, raising their voices, their dollars, and their hands to elect candidates and support just lobbying efforts. Christians can also support state social action and policies where individual, church and charity actions fall short, such as using public money or manpower to rebuild infrastructure after a disaster like Katrina. Furthermore, Christians can also support state action, such as President George W. Bush’s Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which directs public monies toward private church and charity programs. These programs can often do the work of helping people much more personally and effectively than the unwieldy bureaucracies of government.

One good example of how Christians are attempting to have God-honoring influence on the political process (even on two sides of the same social justice issue) is the Climate Change Initiative. In early 2006, a group of American evangelical leaders issued a statement calling on the U.S. government to join a large block of the world community in striving to end what they claimed was human-induced global warming (Climate Change). The initiative was based mainly on an appeal to social justice: “The consequences of global warming will… hit the poor the hardest, in part because those areas likely to be significantly affected first are in the poorest regions of the world” (Climate Change). Even more interesting (and laudable) are the opening words to their statement, which powerfully express their view concerning Christians having a voice in state social policy:

As American evangelical Christian leaders, we recognize both our opportunity and our responsibility to offer a biblically based moral witness that can help shape public policy in the most powerful nation on earth, and therefore contribute to the well-being of the entire world. Whether we will enter the public square and offer our witness there is no longer an open question. We are in that square, and we will not withdraw. (Climate Change)

Whether the evangelical signers of the Climate Change Initiative are correct in their assessment remains to be seen; the scientific community’s jury is still out on whether human activity really causes global warming. This is precisely why another group of evangelical leaders decided to join the political debate on the issue and declined to sign the statement based, no less, on a separate social justice claim.

E. Calvin Beisner, associate professor of historical theology at Knox Theological Seminary… said ‘the science is not settled’ on whether global warming was actually a problem or even that human beings were causing it. And he said that the solutions advocated by global warming opponents would only cause the cost of energy to rise, with the burden falling most heavily on the poor. (Goodstein, “Evangelical Leaders”)

This example, and many more, illustrates how every Christian – whatever his or her political stripes – can and should influence state policy regarding life-giving social action.

This example also aptly illustrates how Christians must exercise careful discernment when considering the problem, root cause, and best solution for any social concern. Christians should be very careful not to jump on a bandwagon of questionable validity. Not every social action is necessarily good and positive even if it springs from sincere and good intentions. Some examples of seemingly helpful actions – distributing condoms in Africa, clean needles to drug addicts, or incremental welfare to unwed mothers – may address immediate or surface problems, but over time, they can lead to much worse social problems. It has been widely shown that distributing condoms, clean needles, and incremental child welfare only perpetuate the social problems those state distribution programs are attempting to alleviate. Christians have a duty to offer prudent and wise solutions.

“… [G]ood and just results are the ultimate test. Sound and logical principles must be at the heart of our feelings and acts of compassion, or we risk making bad situations worse” (Nash 2). We also risk shaming the good name of Jesus Christ if we offer solutions, such as those just listed, that are illogical, impractical, and just plain ridiculous.

A word of caution about socialism (democratic or otherwise) is in order here. Should Christians advocate a state political and economic system that to some extent redistributes wealth in order to bring about equality and lift up the poor? This temptation to use the state as a collectivist Robin Hood that steals from the rich and gives to the poor must be avoided at all costs. In fact, socialism, in any form, only hurts the poor in the end. Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute clearly addresses the dangers of socialism in his paper, “Capitalism and Christianity: an Uneasy Partnership”:

In the 20th century, capitalism proved superior for meeting human needs than socialism. Yet many Christians, rightly concerned about the poor, blame capitalism for the world’s ills…. While some government safety nets may be in order, government redistribution of wealth is usually a disincentive for production, lowering economic production and exacerbating social problems. Equal opportunity to succeed in a free society is what is required. Christian men and women can help people in poverty by ensuring they get the education required to prosper and that they are not kept in poverty through the unjust action of others. (Capitalism and Christianity 39)

Bandow’s article concludes,

Is capitalism Christian? No. It neither advances human virtures (sic) nor corrects ingrained personal vices; it merely reflects them. But socialism and its weaker statist cousins exacerbate the worst of men’s flaws. By divorcing effort from reward, stirring up covetousness and envy, and destroying the freedom that is the necessary precondition for virtue, socialism tears at the just social fabric that Christians should seek to establish. A Christian must still work hard to shed even a little light into a capitalistic society. But his task is likely to be much harder in a collectivist system. (55)

In regard to social justice, Christians must have a clear intellectual grasp of what social justice entails and the biblical principles that guide the Christian in his or her support of individual, church, and state social action. Christians also have a duty to wisely apply those sound principles to the major social problems of the early part of the 21st century. How individual believers and the church at large address these issues will impact many lives and bring great glory (or shame) to the name and gospel of Jesus Christ. It is of course axiomatic that any social action be motivated and implemented in a spirit of true Christian justice, grace and love.

In the final analysis, recognizing that life can and should be just, though not always fair, Christians can take the lead in church and charitable work and in advocating the careful application of state sponsored social action. Only Christians can offer the disadvantaged (both in the church and society) true love and spiritual healing, and, ultimately, only Christians can give God the glory in the process. By doing so they thus “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2, 10).

Works Cited
American Heritage Dictionary Online. No pag.
Bandow, Doug. “Capitalism and Christianity: An Uneasy Partnership”. EBSCO Publishing: International Journal on Peace. September 3, 2002, Vol. XIX No. 3.
Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action. May 28, 2006. No pag.
Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The White House of President George W. Bush, August 7, 2006. No pag.
Goodstein, Laurie. “Disowning Conservative Politics Is Costly for Pastor”, The New York Times, July 30, 2006.
Goodstein, Laurie. “Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative, The New York Times Online, February 8, 2006
Nash, Ronald H. Social Justice and the Christian Church. (1st edition) Lima, Ohio: Academic Renewal Press, 2002.
The New Open Bible. New American Standard Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990.
Rawls, John. Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. (1st edition) Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press, 2001.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Despite recent demagoguery, Non-Citizens also have Constitutional Rights

 * Civil Liberties & Human Rights

By Glenn Greenwald
February 1, 2010…

Over the weekend, Sen. Susan Collins released a five-minute video ( in which she sounded as though she were possessed by the angriest, most unhinged version of Dick Cheney. Collins recklessly accused the Obama administration of putting us all in serious danger by failing to wage War against the Terrorists.

Most of what she said was just standard right-wing boilerplate, but there was one claim in particular that deserves serious attention, as it has become one of the most pervasive myths in our political discourse: namely, that the U.S. Constitution protects only American citizens, and not any dreaded foreigners. Focusing on the DOJ’s decision to charge the alleged attempted Christmas Day bomber with crimes, Mirandize him, and provide him with counsel, Collins railed: “Once afforded the protection our Constitution guarantees American citizens, this foreign terrorist ‘lawyered up’ and stopped talking”

This notion that the protections of the Bill of Rights specifically and the Constitution generally apply only to the Government’s treatment of American citizens is blatantly, undeniably false — for multiple reasons — yet this myth is growing, as a result of being centrally featured in “War on Terror” propaganda.

First, the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2008, issued a highly publicized opinion, in *Boumediene v. Bush*, which, by itself, makes clear how false is the claim that the Constitution applies only to Americans. The Boumediene Court held that it was unconstitutional for the Military Commissions Act to deny habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo detainees, none of whom was an American citizen (indeed, the detainees were all foreign nationals outside of the U.S.). If the Constitution applied only to U.S. citizens, that decision would obviously be impossible. What’s more, although the decision was 5-4, none of the 9 Justices — and, indeed, not even the Bush administration — argued that the Constitution applies only to American citizens. That is such an inane, false, discredited proposition that no responsible person would ever make that claim.

What divided the Boumediene Court was the question of whether foreigners held by the U.S. military outside of the U.S.(as opposed to inside the U.S.) enjoy Constitutional protections. They debated how Guantanamo should be viewed in that regard (as foreign soil or something else). But not even the 4 dissenting judges believed — as Susan Collins and other claim — that Constitutional rights only extend to Americans. To the contrary, Justice Scalia, in his scathing dissent, approvingly quoted Justice Jackson in conceding that foreigners detained inside the U.S. are protected by the Constitution (emphasis added): “Justice Jackson then elaborated on the historical scope of the writ: ‘The alien, to whom the United States has been traditionally hospitable, has been accorded a generous and ascending scale of rights as he increases his identity with our society … . But, in extending constitutional protections beyond the citizenry, the Court has been at pains to point out that it was the alien’s presence within its territorial jurisdiction that gave the Judiciary power to act.’ Id., at 770–771.”

That’s from Scalia, and all the dissenting judges joined in that opinion. It is indisputable, well-settled Constitutional law that the Constitution restricts the actions of the Government with respect to both American citizens and foreigners. It’s not even within the realm of mainstream legal debate to deny that. Abdulmutallab was detained inside the U.S. Not even the Bush DOJ — not even Antonin Scalia — believe that the Constitution only applies to American citizens. Indeed, the whole reason why Guantanamo was created was that Bush officials wanted to claim that the Constitution is inapplicable to foreigners held outside the U.S.— not even the Bush administration would claim that the Constitution is inapplicable to foreigners generally.

The principle that the Constitution applies not only to Americans, but also to foreigners, was hardly invented by the Court in 2008. To the contrary, the Supreme Court — all the way back in 1886 — explicitly held this to be the case, when, in *Yick Wo v. Hopkins*, it overturned the criminal conviction of a Chinese citizen living in California on the ground that the law in question violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. In so doing, the Court explicitly rejected what Susan Collins and many others claim about the Constitution. Just read what the Court said back then, as it should settle this matter forever (emphasis added):

“The rights of the petitioners, as affected by the proceedings of which they complain, are not less because they are aliens and subjects of the emperor of China… . The fourteenth amendment to the constitution is not confined to the protection of citizens. It says: ‘Nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’ These provisions are universal in their application, to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction, without regard to any differences of race, of color, or of nationality; and the equal protection of the laws is a pledge of the protection of equal laws… . The questions we have to consider and decide in these cases, therefore, are to be treated as involving the rights of every citizen of the United States equally with those of the strangers and aliens who now invoke the jurisdiction of the court.”

Could that possibly be any clearer? Over 100 years ago, the Supreme Court explicitly said that the rights of the Constitution extend to citizens and foreigners alike. The Court has repeatedly applied that principle over and over. Only extreme ignorance or a true desire to deceive would lead someone like Susan Collins to claim that such rights are “protection[s] our Constitution guarantees American citizens.”

Second, basic common sense by itself should prevent people like Susan Collins from claiming the Constitution applies only to American citizens. There are millions of foreign nationals inside the U.S. at all times — not only illegally but also legally: as tourists, students, workers, Green Card holders, etc. Is there anyone who really believes that the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to them? If a foreign national is arrested and accused by the U.S. Government of committing a crime, does anyone believe they can be sentenced to prison without a jury trial, denied the right to face their accusers, have their property seized without due process, be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, and be denied access to counsel?

Anyone who claims that the Constitution only protects American citizens, but not foreigners, would necessarily have to claim that the U.S. Government could do all of that to foreign nationals. Does anyone believe that? Would it be Constitutionally permissible to own foreigners as slaves on the ground that the protections of the Constitution — including the Thirteenth Amendment — apply only to Americans, not foreigners?

Third, to see how false this notion is that the Constitution only applies to U.S. citizens, one needs to do nothing more than read the Bill of Rights. It says nothing about “citizens.” To the contrary, many of the provisions are simply restrictions on what the Government is permitted to do (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … or abridging the freedom of speech”; “No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner”). And where rights are expressly vested, they are pointedly not vested in “citizens,” but rather in “persons” or “the accused” (“No person shall … . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”; “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed … . and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense”).

The only way to argue that these rights apply only to Americans is to argue that only Americans, but not foreigners, are “persons.” Once one makes that claim, then one is in Dred Scott territory. If foreigners are not “persons,” then what are they: sub-persons? Non-persons? *Untermenschen*?

There are, of course, certain Constitutional rights that are clearly reserved only for citizens — such as the right to vote or to hold elective office — but when that is the case, the Constitution explicitly states that to be so (“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States … .”). Indeed, the Fourteenth Amendment, in the very same clause, demonstrates the distinction between “citizens” (which only includes “Americans”) and “persons” (which includes everyone), and proves that the former is merely a subset of the latter: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Article II, Section 1 — in defining eligibility to be President — makes the same distinction: “No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President.”

“Persons” and “citizens” have entirely different meanings in the Constitution. There are a handful of instances in which the Constitution applies only to American citizens. When that is the case, the Constitution explicitly uses the word “citizens.” In all other instances, it simply restricts what the Government is permitted to do generally or uses the much broader term “persons” to describe who holds the rights it guarantees. That’s the obvious point the *Yick Wo* Court made in 1886 in holding “these provisions are universal in their application, to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction,” and it ought to prevent the most minimally honest individuals among us from claiming otherwise, as Susan Collins just did.

It’s certainly true that, even after Boumediene, there is a viable debate over whether so-called alien “enemy combatants” held outside of the U.S. are entitled to the full panoply of Constitutional protections (of course, that debate ignores the unanswerable question: how do you know someone is an “enemy combatant” — let alone a “Terrorist” — if they don’t first have a trial?). There are also instances (such as deportation hearings) where the due process rights to which foreign nationals are entitled are less stringent than standard rights guaranteed in criminal trials (because foreign nationals have no Constitutional right to be admitted entrance to the U.S.).

But this right-wing demagoguery (coming from both Republicans and some Democrats) has nothing to do with those debates. For one thing, the accused Christmas Day bomber was captured and is being held inside the U.S.(right-wing fear-mongers have long argued that we should not bring GITMO detainees to the U.S. because, once inside the U.S., they would then enjoy full Constitutional protections). But more important, the standard rhetorical formulation being used — “extending rights to foreign Terrorists which the Constitution reserves for U.S. citizens” — suggests that Constitutional rights are for American citizens only. That is blatantly false, and anyone making that claim — as Susan Collins and so many others have — is either extremely ignorant or extremely dishonest.