Behind the challenges to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) being heard at the Supreme Court this week is the idea that Barack Obama wants to take away your freedoms (as Mitt Romney himself asserted today). I’ve long since stopped counting the number of ridiculous things said about Obama, but this might be the ridiculousest of them all. At least the Kenyan rumors have some basis in reality, however threadbare it is, since his father was indeed Kenyan and he does have a funny name, for an American president. But this "freedom" business is simply paranoid and delusional. I defy anyone to name for me a specific and precise freedom that Obama has taken away from the American people. You can’t.[...]The classic definition of freedom, or liberty, is still John Stuart Mill’s. His sentence that goes, “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign,” can be quoted out of context to imply that a person shouldn’t have to buy health insurance. But context shows that a few sentences earlier, Mill discussed the harm principle. A person can act with complete freedom so long as his actions don’t harm others. Well, pal, if you’re healthy and 35 and you don’t buy insurance and you get hit by a bus and you need $10,000 in medical care and you can’t and don’t pay for it, that harms me, because I’m an insured taxpayer and I’m helping to pick up your tab. That is freedom: not just the right to be left alone, but also the obligation to take responsibility for the consequences of one’s own actions on the freedom of other members of society. By that definition, the ACA is enhancing freedom, and personal responsibility—which is why conservatives were for the mandate in the first place. [Ed: emphasis added]
And here we have it, right there in black and white: the harm principle. The harm principle can be summed up as, "I shouldn't have to clean up your mess."
It is the underlying foundation of any legitimate freedom, from the First through the Twenty-Seventh.
Most important, any conservative worth his salt ought to be acknowledging the truth of it, and any liberal ought to be shouting it from the highest of heaven.
We liberals have ceded too much freedom from harm that we sort of deserve the calumny and disrespect we receive from the right. Take "Stand Your Ground."
Here, on the face of things, is a bill that defends your freedom from harm, but if you look closely on it, it misses Mill's larger point: while preventing harm to others is a societal good, it's the object of government and it is assumed the individual will not always act in the best interests of others.
Think about that for a moment: in "Stand Your Ground," we have a bill that completely abandons societal and common justice to leave the decision about whether harming another person is a good thing or a bad thing in the hands of someone in a situation of heightened emotion and shaky judgement.
Put it another way: we train cops to examine suspects carefully and to default away from irreparable harm to a suspect, even if that means endangering themselves further. You think someone like George Zimmerman was going to think that one step further?
Likewise, as Michael Tomasky points out, by enforcing and insisting on an individual mandate as part of affordable healthcare, we hit a double: we cover the uninsured and we lower our own healthcare costs.
After all, that representative $10,000 in medical bills is $10,000 unavailable for my own needs.
Indeed, going back to first principles, harming oneself in a car accident is harming society (in addition to the hospital bills-- whether insured or not-- the car has to be removed and road cleaned up, which costs the community money,) so enforcing an individual mandate benefits society as a whole, since I'm now free not to clean up all of your mess.