This week, amidst the left’s latest volley of accusations of cold-heartedness in response to conservatives’ renewed interest in repealing Obamacare (which, in doing so, will allegedly deprive 24 million people of a so-called “right to healthcare”), I took to Facebook and posted the following status:
If these Radical Republicans get their way, 24 million people will lose access to affordable cotton. #humanrights #its1865
Predictably, the backlash was immediate, and never have I seen leftists writhe in so much agony as a result of something I wrote. Within moments, my liberal readers—even those whom I knew personally—were calling for the termination of my affiliation with the Washington Post, questioning my fitness to practice law, and accusing me of actively harming our culture and society.
The feedback did not really bother me—sure, it was infantile, but it comes with the territory. More interesting was how the response highlighted the left’s extreme sensitivity to being cast as the bad guy.
Let’s be clear: I don’t think socialized medicine is perfectly analogous to antebellum slavery. Despite clear parallels, there are obvious and drastic differences between the two that makes one far more sinister than the other. This, I admit, means my post was rife with hyperbole of the uber-inflammatory variety.
But hyperbole—which is never supposed to be taken literally— can sometimes serve a valuable rhetorical purpose. In this case, it identified the moral deficiency of socialized medicine—namely, that it is theft of labor and the fruits thereof—in a way that was unavoidable and direct. It recast the debate in a way the left did not anticipate, and if you ask me, that was its most egregious offense.
In today’s political exchanges, the status quo puts conservatism on the perpetual defensive: Why do you hate the poor? Why do you want to burden struggling college students with too much debt? Why are you heartlessly deporting innocent undocumented immigrants? Why do you want to punish sick people and take away their health coverage?
Compounding the issue are the many conservatives all too happy to play along. They argue about efficiency, rising premiums, small business, or the national debt—i.e., topics which have no pull on a person’s sense of right and wrong. These conservatives are doing conservatism a gross disservice, as they are conceding the moral high ground and implicitly accepting their opponents’ premise that free healthcare, free education, or free anything-anyone-says is indeed an inalienable human right.
If someone were to take $50 out of my wallet without my permission and give it to a person poorer than I, I would not respond with a civil debate about whether wealth redistribution is indeed better for the poor. I would demand immediate redress, and if necessary, compel the state to enforce my property rights—end of story. Granted, there is slightly more room for debate on a larger policy level, but that does not mean the moral wrongdoing—specifically, the central offense of theft—has vanished entirely.
It is in conservatives’ best interests, then, to ceaselessly remind the public of these moral perspectives and undermine the left’s monopoly on what is “right.” Borrowing money while falsely representing an intention to eventually repay it is lying. Assessing taxes to serve an illegitimate governmental end is theft. Dictating the terms of life along lines of personal convenience is evil. Treating people differently on the basis of their skin color, sex, or religion, in any context, is wrong. These arguments should be at the forefront of conservatism’s public persona.
For those conservatives wary of such an approach, I urge them to consider the tactics of the left—particularly in the age of Trump. Despite many nations throughout history enforcing their immigration laws, the left chooses to compare—to thunderous applause—the deportation of a handful of illegal immigrants to the systemic execution of millions of Jews at Auschwitz-Birkenau. They have analogized the Tea Party to the Islamic State, and have described Republicans as being “no different” than the Taliban. Reasoned discourse is now anathema to the far-left, having been replaced by winning at all costs. When it’s political warfare, a diplomat is a poor substitute for a general.
Upsetting a norm as entrenched as the left’s self-righteousness will be difficult. People will get angry and harsh words will be exchanged. But when Americans realize why socialism fails everywhere it is tried—because it gradually dulls the people’s sense of right and wrong—it will be worth it.
Thomas Wheatley is a regular contributor to the Washington Post’s All Opinions Are Local blog and a student at the Antonin Scalia Law School. Follow him on Twitter @TNWheatley and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.