My hypocritical reasons for celebrating today’s health care ruling

by Alan Cohen

Today the US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Obama’s health care law. Like many non-conservatives, I was overjoyed by this news. At the same time, I recognize that many on the right are dismayed.

However, when I ask myself (honestly) why I am overjoyed, the answer is not what I would hope. Fortunately, it is not because those on the right are dismayed. But it is also not because now lots of people will have good health care, or because there will be fewer horror stories emerging about those without coverage. Yes, I believe these things will result, and I am glad about them in a rational kind of way. But my emotional response comes because the US government has affirmed in a certain way that it reflects my values. I think we are all subject to this kind of emotional bias, something important to recognize.

Even though I no longer live in the US, and indeed left it in part because I don’t feel the culture and government reflect my values, I nonetheless follow US politics like an addict, and hope that it will evolve in a way I approve of. My values say that providing universal health care is something that modern rich societies can and are obligated to do. My values say that society is integrated and people are not islands, so it is reasonable to design policies that reflect the fact that my actions (including purchasing decisions) affect other people, and that I should not be free to act as I wish regardless of the consequences for others.

Accordingly, today’s health care ruling affirms my values, and I am happy about it. But the flip side is that it disaffirms the values of the conservatives (crudely summarizable as “Keep the F***ing federal government out of my life”), and they are equally disheartened. Even though I disagree with them, my realization about why I am happy makes me understand why they are not – something I would not be able to claim if I were truly happy about all the poor who will now have insurance.

Of course, I wish I were someone who took joy in the real human benefits of this news (rather than simply acknowledging the good of it), but I think very few of us are capable of this sort of emotional response. The exceptions are likely to be those working on the front lines providing health care to the poor and under-insured, who see the human tragedies day in and day out.

The important lesson is that we should all be a little less smug about our values, and a little more open to those of others. (Or maybe I’m just evil.)

What about you? What were your responses to today’s ruling and why? Am I alone?