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A Brilliant Speech

Leonard Peikoff delivered a speech that changed my life 20 years ago today.

His talk was titled “Health Care is Not a Right”. I was in the audience at the Red Lion Hotel in Costa Mesa, California, when he delivered it. I can attest that Dr. Peikoff, his speech and the audience response were a breathtakingly brilliant exercise in objective communication. What made the speech exceptionally powerful was his mastery of the extremely difficult subject, his radical theme, understanding his audience, the context of the presentation and its stirring delivery.

I had been acquainted with the trials of working in medicine. I knew firsthand that Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), created by government control through the HMO Act of 1973 by Nixon and Ted Kennedy, were ruining people’s lives and livelihoods and that – other than Ayn Rand, who had passionately argued against government-run medicine including Medicare – only one serious intellectual had made a moral case against socialized medicine. I’d read Dr. Peikoff’s ingenious “Medicine: The Death of a Profession” (1985), based on his speech at Ford Hall Forum in Boston. His explanation had opened my eyes to the spreading bureaucracy of socialized medicine and alerted me to the fact that the emerging new jargon was to be questioned, challenged and not taken lightly and that to do less was to sanction the insidious creep of dictatorship.

When Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, vowing to offer “health care that can never be taken away”, I knew that meant individual rights that will instantly be stripped away; the right of the doctor to practice medicine, the right of the drug company to make and sell drugs, the right of the health insurance company to assess, measure and price risk, terms and treatment – and of course the right of the patient, policyholder and individual to choose his or her own health care including whether to own a policy. I knew that medicine was, as a profession, dead or dying and I knew that President Clinton’s “health security” was a monstrous ideal. An organization started as a grass-roots effort to stop it and invited Dr. Peikoff to address its Town Hall Meeting on this date in 1993.

There were conservatives, libertarians and others among the speakers. The Red Lion’s ballroom as I recall was packed with hundreds of people from across southern California. I saw and talked to people who were truck drivers, waitresses, families, businessmen, entrepreneurs, medical professionals, doctors, nurses, housewives – all Americans uniting against the prospect – which we’d been told was imminent – of total government control of medicine. Several people spoke, some droned on. None made a moral case for capitalism. Then, Leonard Peikoff stepped to the podium.

He was electrifying. With passion, vigor and reason, like a surgeon cutting with precision, he railed against the premise of the Clinton health care plan. His argument that health care is not a right was an undeniably concise, clear case yet its thesis was framed with an unmistakable reverence for life, liberty and the founding American ideals. I was first on my feet as I rose amid the thundering applause and saw in my peripheral vision the audience rise in a kind of wave – row after row after row – while applauding in an explosion of energy I’ve not seen since. I was fixed on the face of Dr. Peikoff. He was clearly moved by the response.

I think I had known then that he was the son of a doctor, that he had once been a pre-medical student and that his brother was a doctor. I, too, had loved ones who worked in medicine. I think I appreciated how personal this issue – freedom versus slavery in medicine – must have been for the speaker. I became emotional, feeling an intense swell which comes from knowing that someone you love is under siege by those who seek to put him in chains. I thought it was just me … until I looked around. Tears were streaming from people’s faces. The feeling in the hall was not fear, pain or guilt. It wasn’t exactly anger, though a strong sense of justice had been evoked. It struck me as a response based on an overwhelming sense of justice – the feeling was an affirmation: this is good, right and just – mostly matched by a strong sense of resolve.

I was later hired to write about the Clinton health care plan for the group that sponsored Dr. Peikoff’s talk, Americans for Free Choice in Medicine (AFCM). We helped to stop the plan, which was killed before it was even proposed as legislation. It wasn’t as easy as that and the effort was an enormously fast and constant stream of disseminating facts and evaluations. Looking back 20 years later, I credit Dr. Peikoff’s “Health Care is Not a Right,” which, it must be noted, was not sponsored by any Objectivist group or anything with Ayn Rand’s – or Peikoff’s – name on it, with propelling the crusade against the Clinton health care plan. The talk’s brilliantly integrated abstractions and concretizations are logical, rational and very persuasive. It provided high-octane fuel to ignite the moral passion of those opposed to government control. It bought us time to win over men such as Wyoming Sen. Malcolm Wallop among others, including some who later formed alliances such as the Tea Party-oriented Freedom Works and it allowed groups such as the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) to spread Objectivism.

It is impossible to convey the sense of doom that hung over the country’s medical profession during those days. The Clinton health care plan was inevitable, we were incessantly told. And many believed it. The most ardent believers were on the right. Only one man stepped forward first to declare that the notion that health care is a right is a moral abomination. He did it 20 years ago today. That we as a movement can even conceive of calling the nation’s 3-year-old dictate ObamaCare – which at once names the dictator and mocks his dishonesty – and steadfastly fight for its repeal is possible thanks to Leonard Peikoff.

It is true that we’re losing the battle for freedom. ObamaCare is law. Today, Republicans compromised again in favor of the welfare state. One of the chief Republican welfare-statists, a smooth-talking, mealy-mouthed conservative congressman from Georgia named Tom Price, went on Fox News today and answered, after evading Charles Krauthammer’s question whether health care is a right, that conservatives hold that the government has a moral obligation to provide health care to all. That the question is even asked – in a forum on Fox News Channel, which didn’t exist 20 years ago – owes to the power of a rational philosophy. We should be grateful to Leonard Peikoff for interpreting, advancing and acting on it. We should finish what he started.

On the Government Shutdown

Amid all the fuss and nonsense today, the second day of a partial (really, miniscule) Big Government shutdown, an exchange between a powerful government official and a reporter captured the essence of the central issue at stake: life versus death.

The reporter, a CNN broadcast reporter not some Fox News Channel personality or reporter (and that channel just gets worse every day in terms of objectivity), dared to challenge the U.S. Senate’s top politician, a slimy official from Nevada named Harry Reid, on a new proposal from the opposition party that would restore part of the U.S. government that has been effectively shut down over a dispute about ObamaCare. CNN’s Dana Bash, who is generally not known for being antagonistic toward the Obama administration and certainly not noted for being objective, asked Senate Majority Leader Reid a simple if cliched question: “If you can help one child who has cancer, why wouldn’t you do it?”

Sen. Reid’s answer ought to go down in history – with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s infamous line that the government had to “pass” fascist ObamaCare to “find out what’s in it” – as capturing the essence of how the state regards the individual when the state has omnipotent power. The question and answer exchange, which happened the day after ObamaCare went into fuller effect, finished with the Mormon senator’s short, angry response: “Why would we want to do that?”

To have a United States senator openly question why someone would demand to know why the government ought to intervene on behalf of a defenseless, sick child – supposedly the primary recipient of ObamaCare’s purported benefits – is itself revealing. ObamaCare is not about helping others. Altruism is all about enslaving, not helping, others, and Sen. Reid’s vicious, savage-like answer demonstrates the pure, raw primitivism Americans can expect from ObamaCare and its fascist bureaucrats. Over time, and sooner than later, they will ultimately seek to maim, harm, cripple, torture, enslave and murder patients because ObamaCare is based on death not life as the standard of value, though most people don’t yet know it. Redistribution of wealth, and that’s what ObamaCare means, is an act of the initiation of force. It is a form of violence that acts to subjugate the individual and all of his choices and break the individual’s spirit so that he serves others.

Others, however, will not be served. That’s only the bait. The switch is that the others whom robbing the healthy, wealthy, productive and otherwise are presumably intended to serve will be among the first victims – the old, the sick, the young, the weak, those too timid to speak out and fight back; they are doomed to die. They will cost too much, they will require too much medicine, too much care, and they are more easily extinguished and exterminated.

Sen. Reid’s horrifying comment, which is being treated as yet another conservative talking point – or, these days, with cynical comedians passing for intellectuals, laughing point – offers ObamaCare’s meaning in starkly clear and immediate language. It not only lies in what he said – which amounts to why do you dare to presume we care about the life of an individual?!? – it lies in how he said it: with outrage, contempt and venom.

But there’s more from the religious senator from Nevada. On top of showing his hatred of the innocent, the vacant weasel named Harry Reid showed a glimpse of what’s to come under the emerging American dictatorship with regard to freedom of speech, which covers freedom of the press. Singling out the mousy reporter – who is hardly known as a brave lion in the arena of journalism – for attack, as the Obama administration did when singling out CNN for assault after the news network questioned the government’s role in defending Americans at Benghazi, Harry Reid spit at the wispy young woman, with no particular attention to her: “To have someone of your intelligence to suggest such a thing maybe means you’re irresponsible and reckless.”

This is an unmistakable warning to the press: submit to fascism … or else. That’s what Reid’s comment means. So, while ObamaCare’s defenders – and the government shutdown is chiefly about taking down or letting stand the monstrosity known as ObamaCare – spew their plain hatred for children, especially children with disease, they lace it with their contempt for the one who dares to speak his, or in this case her, mind. But this is precisely what every civilized human should do: question what ObamaCare is, what it means, how it applies to you and whether it’s moral or monstrous. Study the facts if they’re available for your consumption and make your own judgment. Then get in some government official’s face and speak up and make some noise about it. Think, question, and speak, just like CNN’s Dana Bash. Do it again. And, whatever else, don’t let the bastards bark you down.

 

The ObamaCare October

Years ago, I warned in multiple posts (and in this op-ed in the Washington Times) that ObamaCare is America’s health care dictatorship. Tomorrow it becomes a harsher reality, as the dictate (which is over three years old) takes fuller effect.

Obama-Obamacare-SignatureWhat every decent American needs to know about the law of the land is that whatever this or that provision of this arbitrary dictate, whatever the press corps says or propagandizes about ObamaCare, you have no control or choice in health insurance or medicine anymore, not if you’re a doctor, patient or policyholder.

The price, terms and treatment are under total government control. Medicine as a profession – medicine and insurance are no longer in any meaningful sense a profession, a term which implies a degree of autonomy on the part of professionals – is dead.

This is despite opposition, to the extent it is opposition, from religious conservatives including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who tried to stop ObamaCare to his credit. Cruz now rails against “extremism” and “absolutism” in his attacks on ObamaCare, even after he read from an absolutist book such as Atlas Shrugged, which I don’t think he understands, during what amounts to his ineffective 21-hour standoff. There is no real, principled opposition to totalitarianism among politicians in America. Nor is there principled opposition in the right-wing press. For example, Fox News host Greg Gutfeld, who also supports government-sponsored spying on Americans, compared Obama to Leonardo Da Vinci and ObamaCare to the Mona Lisa in his latest asinine comedy comments on The Five. No one other than a few voices for reason opposes the moral premise of the dictate – altruism – on principle and too many of those who do are too busy looking for leaders among politicians such as Ted Cruz who send mixed messages and accomplish nothing.

Tomorrow, ObamaCare begins amid what may turn out to be a partial Big Government shutdown. ObamaCare is not the end of the world and it’s a mistake to treat it like it is. But it is the end of free choice in medicine. This historic dictate, as I’ve warned many times, is a death blow to individual liberty in health care and ObamaCare is a gigantic step toward dictatorship of every American’s life.

It’s happened and it’s here, in a fuller sense, come tomorrow. All the posturing, grandstanding and maneuvering on policy points is not going to stop fascism. If you hate the dictate and decide that ObamaCare is bad, wrong and has got to go, your only choice is to oppose it on moral grounds, admit that health care is not a right – and insist that free choice in medicine is – and speak up, write and elect those who accept that idea and nothing less … or be prepared to scream for your life – and your child’s or grandfather’s life – in a new, American dictatorship. When the reality hits you – and it will – brace yourself and remember that tomorrow’s bureaucrats were made not born and that the best in what was once medicine will shrug, quit and leave.

You will hear that the dictate is helping others and that this is the law of the land and you will hear it many times. When you do, ask yourself if it’s helping you and if so at whose expense and by what right. Remember, too, that slavery was once the law of the land. The Orwellian named ObamaCare robs everyone of money, choice and life. Tomorrow, the law morphs medicine into slavery.

Activism

Obama-Obamacare-SignatureFrom the day I first became an activist – when my best friend told me that his family’s home was being seized by our hometown government when we were in the third grade (as I recently wrote about here) to this black day in our nation’s history, March 23, which, contrary to decades of my best activist efforts, marks three years of health care dictatorship known as ObamaCare (as I wrote about in an op-ed in this week’s Washington Times), I have learned the essentials of activism.

Key lessons include matching message to media, objectively communicating on principle, and not without consideration of factors which may at first seem irrelevant, an important aspect that many well-meaning activists, especially Objectivists, fail to grasp and master. For example, in the case of the third grade property rights action – we took on city hall with our door-to-door canvassing throughout the town – seeing two eight-year-olds walking across town to save a child’s home from government-sponsored seizure and demolition for the sake of a park concretized for residents that having a place for children to play seemed beside the point if it means depriving the child of a home to live in. Our campaign for justice was the perfect counterpoint in reality to the local government’s claims. They backed down. We won. My friend grew up in that home.

We bought time and we set an example of activism; he was able to keep his home. Seeing the bastards buckle was, for me, a tonic to the counterculture which I knew I hated. I could not have conceptualized it this way at the time, but I sensed that the New Left, which later spawned the ultimate nihilist Obama and was spreading all around me as a child, was sinister – I was being subjected to it every day in government schools amid ‘progressive’ education which was pure poison – and even as a boy I knew the left was contaminating the government. Whatever had almost happened to my best friend was caused by some dark intellectual force I had yet to identify but knew was lurking and slithering around me in various forms such as hippies, drug users and dealers and all sorts of toxic hosts that people remarkably still refuse to acknowledge: teachers, priests, political operatives and especially college professors. There were good ones, too, which must be said. But the bad ones put their professions to shame and were feeding off New Left dogma – if it feels good, do it; whatever works; love the one you’re with; just believe; who are we to know?; what’s right for you isn’t necessarily right for me – and bloodsucking the life out of youths. I learned to be on guard. In this sense, I learned that the New Left radicals have a point; the personal is the political and the reverse is also true and both to the extent that politics apply to one’s life.

I had also learned as a child to commit to physical action, whether for property rights, charity (ringing bells for the Salvation Army and soliciting on street corners to raise money to help the blind), safety (as a crossing guard and kids’ safety school instructor) and politics, standing at blustery Chicago locations to promote individual rights. Chicago Police detained me without cause when, tipped off by a sympathetic union source, I joined a peaceful protest of a Carter/Mondale union rally. That’s where I learned the value of the proper maneuver, getting to know reporters on site and communicating the message to the right recipient. That day, we failed, outfoxed by unions and corrupt cops, ignored by the broadcast media that turned the other cheek to youths being wrongly evicted from an exercise in free speech. We had been unprepared for hostile reaction.

Over years in campaigns and, later, on Capitol Hill with John Porter, on the advance team for Ronald Reagan, whom I met and talked with, and while running editorial operations for free market health care and patient advocacy, while reading Ayn Rand’s writings and reporting on news, sports and commentary, I developed the ability to quickly assimilate facts and action with a principled purpose, often in a crisis with a distinct and legitimate requisite for some degree of theatrical appeal. In Chicago, I had faced harsh weather and physical threats. I was also threatened with physical force on the streets in Philadelphia, where I coached and advised a student protest against state-sponsored voluntary servitude. There were lessons in Miami, too, when I met Elian Gonzalez days before he was seized at gunpoint by the U.S. government only to be returned to a Communist dictatorship.

At times, the activists walked away thinking we had won when, in fact, we’d lost. In other instances, the team figured we may have wasted time when, in fact, we had advanced the cause for freedom in some small but measurable way; the campaign to liberate Elian, which was opposed by some top Objectivists, comes to mind. The team had mobilized and activated thousands in unity in an unprecedented national effort which provided crucial experience to future leaders and serious artists, entrepreneurs and intellectuals. Most of the time the results were as mixed as the culture, a fact of reality which yields the best lesson of all: that, with regard to activism, reality is beyond one’s immediate control and you have to let go of what you can’t control to focus on what you can control, which may be an extremely difficult balance to achieve in an activist moment. Yes, one must act on principle to be a rational activist, as I learned in my youth. But one must act, which I have observed in 40 years of experience most Objectivists do not. When they do, it is often with self-aggrandizement, sanctimony or sneering that puts people off and precludes an intended audience from being receptive to persuasion from an objective communication about what’s in philosophy for them.

I’ve made scads of mistakes and the record proves it. We did not stop welfare statism or eradicate the notion of being morally obliged to “give back” to God, religion or others. We are losing that intellectual battle and fast and on an epic scale. We lost free choice in medicine to health care dictatorship and a child refugee to Communism. But, for the few who have activated their minds in principled action, and you know who you are, activism is not hustling in a self-centered way as most right-wing think tanks and professional political activists do. Activism offers a trade. When properly executed, results are the reward: Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), a moral challenge in action to those who seek to rule by force in the heart of where they gather – Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, DC – and a house a child calls home.

There are other benefits of rational activism: a strong, seasoned, unified network of rare, exceptional intellectuals, neither ivory tower types nor hucksters, who activate like real-life superheroes in a given crisis in a nation heading toward catastrophe, buying more time to live, which buys more time to be happy here on earth. For myself, I know firsthand that activism should not be a sacrifice, and that the greatest reward is having acted in my self-interest. From the life of the late John David Lewis, whose Tea Party speeches for free market medicine and victory in war with jihadists were as passionate as his lectures on history, to the example of Leonard Peikoff, who learned from Ayn Rand (who was also an activist), I have learned that the more the altruist-collectivist axis enacts a dictatorship, the more urgently the egoist-individualist and his allies must self-activate.

On this horrible date in history, the day the dictate ObamaCare became law, Americans should keep in mind the words of Leonard Peikoff, who said, when faced with the prospect of government-controlled medicine – and he said it to a general audience, not to a cluster of academics, let alone Objectivist academics: “So long as people believe that socialized medicine is a noble plan, there is no way to fight it. You cannot stop a noble plan—not if it really is noble. The only way you can defeat it is to unmask it—to show that it is the very opposite of noble. Then at least you have a fighting chance.” The upshot of this thought is to fight on principle; to know enough to fight to win and live life. In this sense, activism means fighting to live and this is a balance; one must keep in mind both that the point is to live and that living means active fighting, not passive griping, forwarding of e-mails and sharing of posts or making jokes, memes and comments. Activism is not only reading, listening and making donations to others. It means going on the offense, deep into the adversary’s field of operations. It means the opposite of sloughing off the world at large; it means engagement, not disengagement. As Ayn Rand wrote, it is sooner than you think. I think this is still true.

Objectivism is a philosophy for living on earth. Its application requires thought and action. Today, especially on this day, this means being an activist, not for the sake of activism but for the sake of your life. Dr. Peikoff’s forementioned health care activism resulted in an instantaneous standing ovation. I know because I was there and, as I remember it, I was first to stand up. The injustice he was fighting, the Clinton health care plan, was not only defeated; unlike ObamaCare, it never went to the White House for signing. That’s because it never made it to the congressional floor for a vote and that’s because it never became a piece of legislation. This is what activism can do.

The ObamaCare Ruling

Today is another sad day for our dying America: the Supreme Court has upheld ObamaCare, according to most reports. But it should not be a surprising day for Americans, not to those who choose to think. Anyone could have seen this coming.

Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative whom most on the right supported when he was appointed by President George W. Bush, joined the left-wing justices and voted to uphold the individual mandate as a tax. The leftists accepted the mandate as part of the commerce clause, as the Obama administration argued, and the other justices, including swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, rejected the law in its entirety. Think back to Chief Justice Roberts’ nomination hearings in Congress. All anyone probably remembers is that his children and family were attractive. One of his cute kids acted up and everyone thought it was adorable – and it was – and the bland, conservative family man John Roberts somehow seemed acceptable as a judge on the nation’s highest court. Conservatives have never – never – argued on principle for reason, rights and capitalism. Conservatives totally reject the idea that one has a moral right to act in one’s self-interest. In fact, they vehemently oppose selfishness.

For the past three years, I have argued against ObamaCare on this blog and elsewhere, and I have argued, in this post, that conservatives are the enemies of individual rights and must be regarded as such until and unless – and to the extent – they prove otherwise as individual politicians. But, really, no one should be surprised by today’s decision; as with the Islamist attack on 9/11, there has been an unending series of facts and evidence that the worst (i.e., dictatorship) is in a sense an unavoidable climax to our once great republic, with one massive advancement toward government control after another, leading us toward total government control and economic collapse (and in foreign policy one appeasement after another, leading to a catastrophic enemy attack).

It is hard to live in today’s dark times among confused, conflicted people who control our lives and lead us toward our doom and, while it is sad that ObamaCare will take us there much, much faster, and there is a real sense in which I think we are doomed, the only thing one can do is address the question of what one can do about it – and do it for one’s own sake. That means accepting the fact that conservatives – such as Bush and the Heritage Foundation – gave us Obama and ObamaCare and continue to reaffirm their commitment to faith in the welfare state. We must move toward pure capitalism, which on a certain level means having a proper understanding of its moral premise, egoism. In other words, what we need is a philosophical revolution, starting with ourselves.

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