Since the Tampa debate, something has been bugging me. I was going to let it go, but I just can’t. Remember when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Rep. Ron Paul about a hypothetical man who doesn’t buy health insurance because he is young and healthy? Then catastrophe strikes. He needs a lot of expensive medical attention.

Shouldn’t the government take care of this unfortunate young person? What would Paul do? Well, you know that when Ron Paul, who generally seems impervious to embarrassment, hems and haws, the question has got to be a stick of dynamite.

Paul was meandering and flailing his way towards what I regard as the correct answer. But he never quite got there–all the poor  guy was able to do was mutter something about churches.

But that is the right answer: charity. He never quite said it, but that is where he wanted to go.  A physician, Paul, I feel certain, would not want this person to die, as you might think if you depended on press reports of the debate. 

What struck me most in the outraged reaction to Paul’s refusal to say that the government needs to assume full responsibility in such cases, is the underlying belief that, unless government does it, it won’t be done: give me government, or give me death.

The assumption is that there is no non-government solution. People prefer government to charity, of course, for several reasons: with the government, there is no obligation for gratitude. That removes a burden that charity imposes, doesn’t it? The government is also less likely to monitor costs carefully. I can understand why many of us would prefer the government, with government’s seemingly (note: only seemingly) limitless resources.

It is true that people who are poor and don’t have health insurance often wait until the last minute to seek medical attention (it is also true that people with health insurance often seek it at the drop of a hat). But have you ever heard of somebody dying because they were poor? It doesn’t happen. Hospitals treat them (as they should) and then the cost is added to the bills of the rest of us. It strikes me that this is preferable to altering the whole of society through Obamacare to accommodate somebody who doesn’t buy health insurance.

But Republicans have got to find a way to make this point without sounding heartless. (They might start by saying a life-threatening disease must always evoke our compassion, but that government isn’t the solution…) Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan was appalled by the way the audience reacted to Blitzer’s question (and the previous audience support for capital punishment in an earlier debate):

But I am more surprised at the cheering of someone dying because he couldn’t afford intensive care. Yes, the GOP is now not only cheering executions; they are cheering people dying because they cannot afford any health insurance. Cheering death by poverty. “Yeah!” came the cry at the thought of a twentysomething dying because he didn’t have insurance. I didn’t think I could be more shocked by the instincts of those in the Republican base, but I just was.

I support capital punishment and might have been tempted to clap in the first instance (just because it’s so shocking to the media!). But there is no reason to cheer at the death of someone whose “crime” was not buying health insurance. I am going to say that, if they really did applaud, it was only because we as a society are getting sick and tired of cleaning up the personal messes of others. Still, there is no excuse. It was lacking in charity.