Our lives are made up of choices. Ranging from mundane to profound, our choices bundled together create balance or imbalance in our lives. Taoist philosophers believed that to lead a tranquil life, one must live in balance with the forces of nature — the yin and the yang, the female and male, the good and evil.
In her book, “Envisioning a New World,” Rev. Rosemarie Carnarius proposes consciously balancing yin (responsibility) and yang (liberty) in public policy.
With the American colonies’ Declaration of Independence, “… for the first time in history, an individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was proclaimed as divinely ordained, unassailable, and constitutionally guaranteed,” writes Carnarius.
Lest the new country devolve into the lawlessness of unbridled individualism, our Constitution’s framers balanced “the ascendency of the individual” with a “trust in humanity’s capacity for self-governance,” she observes.
Democracy — the voice of the people — would balance the rights of the individual. There are “two values essential for a vibrant and congenial community: liberty and responsibility, I and We,” writes Carnarius. To help keep this delicate balance between the rights of the individual and the voice of the people, the founders added a free press to educate the public.
So, what happened to our democratic utopia? Individual liberty and social responsibility in public policy are out of balance.
When the political hype is stripped away, Americans are in basic agreement on many issues, including the availability of affordable health care, quality public education, background checks for gun purchases, access to contraception and guaranteed voter rights. Unfortunately, lawmakers continue to pass laws that are contrary to the voters’ wishes.
Big money politics, voter suppression, disinformation and the slow death of the free press have adulterated our democracy and put special interests in charge of lawmaking. If you look at school choice, gun control and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal plans through the prism of liberty versus responsibility, you will see that individual liberty has been promoted over the social responsibility and the common good.
The ultimate example of the imbalance between liberty and responsibility in public policy is the battle over health care insurance reform. Special interest groups have been fighting meaningful health insurance reform in the U.S. for decades. The ACA was a major step in the right direction because it increased health insurance coverage dramatically; eliminated pre-existing conditions, gender-based price discrimination and lifetime insurance caps; mandated a basic health care package; included fees and taxes (primarily on the wealthy) for cost effectiveness; and capped insurance company profits. As insurance companies dropped out of the ACA exchanges and prices continued to rise, it was obvious that reform was needed. The ACA was an attempt at balancing liberty and responsibility in public policy.
The current Republican plans are: 1) Repeal, 2) Repeal and replace, or 3) Death by 1,000 cuts leading to the ACA’s collapse. Legislation that drops 20+ million people off health insurance, eliminates the ACA’s progressive advances in care and pricing, eliminates the individual mandate, and gives tax breaks to the rich, the insurance companies and big pharma obviously values individual (and corporate) liberty over the common good. The Republican ACA repeal plans are tax cut plans — not insurance reform. Denying access to affordable health care to millions will result in unnecessary disease and premature death for some, while others get rich. The imbalance is glaring.
As a member of the Legislature, I am mindful that our choices and our votes affect all Arizonans. To best serve our state, our goal should be to balance individual liberty with social responsibility in everything we do.