“Paranoid Conservatives”:

Various articles, such as this one, accuse conservatives of “paranoia” for thinking that health care “reform” will lead, for example, to Trig Palin being denied medical care. I agree that it’s a bit paranoid, but not nearly as irrational as the critics suggest. Eugenics enforced by government dictate once had strong support on the Progressive left, more recently than some might imagine.

Most casual observers probably think that enthusiasm for eugenics disappeared with Naziism, but that’s a mistake. Paul Blanshard, for example, a champion of Progressive/liberal Protestantism and an anti-Catholic polemicist, criticized the Catholic Church for its unyielding opposition to coercive eugenics after World War II. In his 1949 bestseller, American Freedom and Catholic Power, Blanshard favorably cited Buck v. Bell and warned of a Catholic plot to, among other things, prohibit sterilization except as “grave punishment” by government for a criminal offense. State eugenics programs continued through the 1970s, which, as in the case of Carrie Buck, did involve innocents being “victimized by elites of various kinds“.

When African Americans express paranoia about the origins of the AIDS virus or the crack epidemic, sympathetic liberals explain that this paranoia is understandable given the Tuskegee experiments. Perhaps a little understanding of the paranoia that arises from the history of eugenics in this country would be in order. (And it’s not like last Fall you didn’t see various modern “progressives” writing some truly awful things about Palin’s decision not to abort Trig!)

UPDATE: I’m not arguing that the right’s “paranoia” is justified, just that it’s “not as irrational” (I’d cross out the word “nearly” if I rewrote the post) as some have made it out to be. If liberals can understand the fallout from the Tuskegee experiment and how it has affected African-American trust of the government with regard to health care, they should be able to understand why religious conservatives–whose intellectual ancestors were the primary, and practically the only, opponents of eugenics during its heyday in the 1920s–might get overly paranoid when modern liberals talk about saving money on health care by making tough choices and so forth.

(Put another way, if liberals would take the time to understand the historical and cultural roots of some of the “paranoid” opposition, instead of just dismissing it as lunacy, they might have better success at addressing it. I’d suggest that liberal readers Google Planned Parenthood racist history to get an idea of how their perceptions of history might diverge rather sharply from religious conservatives’.)

And a historical footnote: Contrary to common belief, the Supreme Court’s 1942 opinion in Skinner v. Oklahoma wasn’t meant to override Buck v. Bell’s endorsement of coercive sterilization, as Justice Douglas’s contemperaneous notes reveal, and as he reiterated in this interview in the 1960s (“There was no attempt to limit Buck v. Bell“.).

FURTHER UPDATE: By the way, I haven’t said so explicitly, but I don’t especially share the religious conservatives’ concerns, including the less paranoid ones. For example, I don’t see anything especially objectionable in this suddenly very controversial article by presidential health advisor and current conservative dart board Ezekiel Emanuel, though of course as a libertarian I’d prefer separation of health care and state.

ADDITIONAL UPDATE: Here’s liberal lawprof (and current Defense Department advisor) Rosa Brooks on the Tuskegee experiments:

Let’s turn to Wright, the man with all the answers. Here’s what he said this week: “Based on the Tuskegee experiment and … what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything.”

That’s not a completely unreasonable perspective. The Tuskegee experiment was a 40-year U.S. Public Health Service study on the effects of untreated syphilis. Who were the lucky human guinea pigs who got to experience untreated syphilis? Poor and mostly illiterate black sharecroppers in Alabama, that’s who. They were falsely informed that they had “bad blood,” not syphilis, and denied access to the necessary medicine. The study was terminated only in 1972, when an appalled researcher leaked reports to the media.

That could make you a little paranoid. And it’s not a form of paranoia Americans can afford to scoff at.

It’s true, as a colleague pointed out, that paranoia over the origins of AIDS or the crack epidemic affects a much smaller proportion of the population than paranoia over potential eugenic government death committees. On the other hand, the idea that the government may ultimately try to save money by prohibiting care, e.g., to people with disabilities, strikes me as several degrees less crazy than the idea that the government purposely infected African American men with AIDS.

I also wanted to add that I’m not unsympathetic to the idea that government-provided health benefits may be limited based on utilitarian considerations, so long as the government doesn’t ban individuals from buying additional coverage. But I don’t think that dismissing the concerns of religious conservatives, or for that matter disability rights activists, about the potential ramifications of such decisionmaking, including whether the private option will remain available in the long term, as complete lunacy will likely help us get there.

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