The Moral Universe of Individualists
Where others might simply wonder what universe Rick Santorum lives in, Steven L. Taylor has an answer: “[Santorum] frequently makes moral claims that paint the picture of a universe in which all outcomes are justly generated by the actions of individuals. In this universe, people are successful because they work hard and make good choices and people fail because they do not work hard enough and/or because of bad choices.” Sound unfair or inaccurate? After reportedly denying that people in America die because of lack of health insurance, Santorum said the following:
“People die in America because people die in America. And people make poor decisions with respect to their health and their healthcare. And they don’t go to the emergency room or they don’t go to the doctor when they need to,” he said. “And it’s not the fault of the government for not providing some sort of universal benefit.”
In saying this, Santorum envisions a universe in which the only real responsibility is individual responsibility. Social responsibility doesn’t figure into his vision, at least here in the realm of healthcare. There’s no need for it because the fulfillment of individual responsibility can alone ameliorate people’s healthcare difficulties. No one, it seems, would die in these cases if people would just pick themselves up with their own IV tubes and didn’t make poor decisions with respect to their health and their healthcare. If people die, it’s their own fault for making poor decisions; it’s never because the government—i.e., people acting collectively as a social body by way of elected officials—neglected or failed to follow through on its social responsibility. Never that.
Santorum’s a professed Catholic, but his worldview is essentially Calvinist and individualistic. It’s also demonstrably wrong. People really have died because medical goods and services were beyond their financial reach. Furthermore, given Santorum’s devotion to the unborn, it should interest him to know that not a few women require expensive hormone supplements or injections to maintain pregnancy. How many miscarriages result because such treatments are financially beyond the mother? I know of one pregnancy that would have failed had there not been a little program called Medicaid.
Anyhow, along with Taylor, I think that “one of the major issues facing our politics at the moment is sorting out this question of the balance between personal and social responsibility,” but that question can’t be properly addressed when people like Santorum are blind to one of these responsibilities.