Pres. Obama: “On Second Thought . . .”

Apparently the president has had a change of heart; or, as some might more cynically state it, he had a change of strategy thrust upon him by political necessity. The following is an excerpt from an MSN/NBC news release earlier today:

“President Barack Obama announced Friday that the administration will not require religious-affiliated institutions to cover birth control for their employees.

Instead, the White House is demanding that insurance companies be responsible for providing free contraception.”

In a post earlier this week we questioned the legitimacy of the initially announced policy which required the coverage which today’s announcement rescinds. Though undoubtedly politically motivated, I think it was the right decision, given the current state of health care payment in this land of ours.

But the second statement harkens back to a comment from a good friend in response to that initial post. Note the language used. The government is making demands on private insurers. That this is happening at all is of significant concern; that it is happening over this particular issue is incomprehensible, unless one recognizes that here, too, political capital is at the center. Specifically, that which comes from a certain segment of the population for whom everything revolves around obliterating any differences between men and women (who really wants that world?). The demand is that contraception–not childhood vaccinations, not absolutely needed medicines for the very young, old, or poor, not various cancer screening procedures (including mammograms)–be provided at no cost. How does that work, other than to cover the cost by adding it to everything else? But we’re not supposed to know that.

My real beef is not specifically about the contraception issue; this matter serves only to highlight the role that we have allowed our governing authorities to take in today’s culture. If health care is the province of the government, even in the limited role of who pays for coverage of which conditions, then it is unavoidable that decisions such as this have to be made. And they will always be made with an eye toward the electorate, or that portion of which is perceived to be most in need of schmoozing. I don’t think the Obama administration is essentially different from any other in this regard: if there is an area in which the government has significant influence, it will exercise that influence with a finger to the wind. A decade ago the concern was homeland security; before that it was education; today it’s health care; in another time it was crime or national defense, housing, or poverty.

The underlying question is that of how we should order our lives together in the day in which we live. Democrats and Republicans have different conceptions of the answer. And so should Christians, but it must be their own, not one adopted from or simply ceded to either of those parties for definition. And that vision, something I have alluded to several times recently, needs to include this matter of health care. For all the faults of the Obama package–and there are many, some of which we haven’t yet found simply because of the size of the bills involved–we should not lose sight of the fundamental problem it sought to address. Too many people cannot pay for adequate care because of sky-rocketing, unregulated costs. Take away “Obama Care” and that problem is still there.

The shaping of that Christian vision might begin by noting the foundational role Christian churches and individuals played in the establishing of hospitals. They were for love and care in the name of Jesus, not for profit. That principle should always be in mind with any aspect of the vision of the good–tempered only as much as necessary by the very real fact that it must all be paid for. That balance will always be challenging to identify, let alone achieve; but this difficulty cannot keep us from seeing and working toward a better way. One that gives second thoughts for other than political reasons.

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