Monday, March 5, 2012

Paying the Piper, Calling the Tune

I went out of town for a weekend, and came back to 87 unopened emails and 3 days of news.  Apparently while I was gone Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown coed a slut and caused all holy heck to break loose.  As I understand it, admittedly a day or two late and several dollars short, she testified that students like her need the new mandated zero-copay option for birth control because they cannot afford the $3000 such stuff could cost them during their law school careers.  Limbaugh said something unfunny, relating to the notion that if she wanted somebody else to pay her for having sex, that made her a pro.  A day or two later he apologized, but it's been the topic of numerous editorial screeds and much hand-wringing.

Oh, where to begin?  The low-hanging fruit is to play tu quoque with the various liberal ugly jokes and character assassinations that have been thrown at the likes of Sarah Palin.  That could take days, and once again illustrate the usual double-standard.  Too easy, and it's been done.

Another tack is to zero in on the absurdity of the premise.  Even if the young lady's numbers are correct, $1000 per year is less than $3 per day.  Most law school students spend that much at Starbucks.  And apparently generic birth control pills can be had for $9 per month at a Wal-Mart within walking distance from the University.  I find it surprising that anybody who can afford Georgetown's tuition would have a hard time scraping that together.  And along those same lines, why would there be zero copay for birth control pills, but not for penicillin or zantac or an epi-pen?  For that matter, what makes the pill privileged over viagra or rogaine or even a decongestant?

But the one that really gets me is this: this shouldn't be anybody's business.  Not Limbaugh's, not mine, not yours.  If this young lady wants to make whatever personal choices she does, nobody should care.  And I really don't, at least in theory.  I may generically disapprove of sex outside of marriage, or deplore the way our social standards slouch ever more toward Gomorrah, but that's just crankiness.  I'm not this girl's father, and I have no standing to judge.

...UNLESS.  Unless you make me pay for it.  And that, to me, is the big issue.  He who pays the piper gets to call the tune.  And when you let "the government," which equals, "the taxpayer" be the piper-payer, then the tune gets to be a matter of public debate.  I just returned from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.  Did you know that we have cancelled all of NASA's manned space flights?  Yep.  Budget cuts.  Somebody in a cubicle has decided that it's a waste of money, and that we can develop private-sector space travel or hitch a ride with the Chinese if we need to tinker with a satellite.  So we're too broke to afford astronauts, but our budget priorities include me buying birth control for somebody to whom I am not related.  I like astronauts better. 

BTW, this argument works LOTS of ways.  I'm no fan of nanny-statism.  Even though I hate smoking (emphysema killed my Granddaddy and will one day kill my Dad), I'm OK in theory with smoking being allowed in places that are not going to have secondhand exposure (a no smoking section in a restarant is like a no peeing section in a pool).  I don't like seat belt laws, or helmet laws, or big brother watching my fat intake.  If you want to kill yourself (quickly or slowly), have fun!  But once "society" has a stake in paying for the consequences of your (or my) actions, we get a vote.  This is why I want to reach into the buggy of people with food stamps and say, "put back that steak!"  You earn the money, eat T-bone every night.  But in my house, I earn the money, and steak is rare.  If I earn "your" money, I get a vote on your groceries.

Anyway, none of this is to defend Limbaugh.  He was right to apologize.  And he also owes an apology to those of us on the right side of this issue, whose reasonable arguments are undermined by him making a rude joke that distracts from the numerous good reasons to oppose this new mandate.

Speaking of prostitutes, there's an old line attributed to Winston Churchill.  He supposedly asked Lady Astor, with whom he had a long-running feud, if she would sleep with him for a million pounds sterling.  She indicated that she might.  He then asked if she would for five pounds.  She asked, "What kind of a woman do you think I am?"  The famous answer was, "We have already determined that.  Now we are negotiating price."  I'm afraid that we're in the same sort of a pickle as a nation.  We have already decided, I am afraid, that we choose to be a nation of serfs and subjects.  We are merely negotiating the terms of our servitude.


MichaelPolutta said...

"But once 'society' has a stake in paying for the consequences of your (or my) actions, we get a vote."

For me, *THIS* is the biggest issue with government-run health care. The government will have a "legitimate" claim to regulate and manage nearly every aspect of your life, on the basis of what lowers insurance liabilities the most.

Coach Sal said...

Yes, I agree. At least in principle. But like I alluded to in my Churchill quote, we now have reached a point where we're mostly haggling over price. If I could somehow wave a magic wand and get "real" insurance back--the sort we had before HMO's were invented, when you had a $500 deductible and then paid 20% of everything after that (back when $500 was real money, BTW), I'm all for it. But the monstrosity we have now is nothing like that. We don't have the government making the decisions, but we have faceless bureaucrats empowered by the government's cronyism and mandates doing the same. My family shells out basically a second mortgage payment for alleged insurance (when you count what my employer pays Blue Cross instead of to me). And for that, I get "coverage" that we're scared to use because a simple X-ray or CAT scan can cost $1000 out of pocket. At least if "the government" were in charge, I'd get a vote! Like I said, if genuine free-market were a choice, I'd take it. But if we're going to have something crappy, I'd at least prefer something crappy that involves better math. If I had to design a system, and were unable to completely wipe the slate clean and start fresh, I might consider a "mandatory" minimum-coverage plan above which people could buy insurance or self-insure. It wouldn't matter much to me if the base plan were government run, or if it were private but with price supports for those who cannot pay. (We pay for them now, why not just do it?) But my plan, however it was built, would eliminate the guy who chooses to have an i-phone instead of health insurance. Now we're back to me picking your groceries again: I pay my kids' bills. But I also set the rules for them. In my opinion, maintaining anyone's "dignity" or "independence" if they are not self-supporting is a fiction, and a pernicious one.

Kim said...

I honestly thought your response to Limbaugh would be more along these lines:

Even the title is "you." I was sorry to see that I was mistaken.

Coach Sal said...

I like the title. And I like the concept. But let's get real--Limbaugh is an entertainer who got his start by hanging up on callers to the recorded sound of a toilet flushing and a vacuum cleaner and calling it "an abortion of an inconvenient conversation." I don't buy the faux-outrage. I don't expect, as the author called it, an "erudite contribution to public discourse" from Limbaugh or Jon Stewart or Bill Maher. You and I can have an intelligent conversation on this matter, because of our shared values and mutual love and respect. If you think you're getting the same from a talk-radio DJ or a cable-TV comedian, good luck with that.

Kim said...

Limbaugh doesn't surprise me one bit; it's the conservative Christian response that gets me. I would have thought that the low hanging fruit would be so easy to take: use the obvious opportunity to denounce such talk and elevate yourselves above the "godless Left." Gain the moral high ground, and then move quickly to the real issues at stake. But's faux outrage for faux outrage, and the whole endless cycle is perpetuated. To me, the "But they do it, too!" finger-pointing plays into the whole scheme so seamlessly. Round and round and round and round we go...

Unknown said...

I mostly agree with your post here. I think there should be a copay on birth control even though, as a married, female, mid-twenties grad student, I fall right into the category of women who would most benefit from no copay.

But, just to set the record straight a bit, here is Sandra Fluke's actual testimony before Congress, somewhat misconstrued by Rush Limbaugh:

You'll notice that she was mostly speaking to the fact that contraception was not covered at all under the insurance offered to students at Georgetown. A more accurate comparison would be if a school associated with some religion that did not condone the use of penicillin offered insurance that did not cover penicillin. Fluke also makes the point that birth control can be medically necessary, and it's not always appropriate to regard the debate as one about subsidizing licentious lifestyles. Birth control, even when not used for contraceptive purposes, often gets treated like an asset to recreation, rather than a potential treatment or medical substance.

Whether or not a Christian institution should offer insurance that covers birth control is a slightly different debate from whether or not there should be copays on birth control.