Editorial: To your health — and the governor’s 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may be off to a centrist start on his second term, and nowhere is that more evident than in his call Monday for comprehensive health care reform. The plan does have its virtues, but the theological manner in which he proclaimed his newfound middle-of-the-road thinking could spell political and financial problems.

The governor, in his second inaugural festivities, actually compared his conversion to "post-partisan" politics to the experience of Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of Christians, who on the road to Damascus was so cosmically shaken as to become St. Paul. It is not recorded that Democrats recoiled from such religious imagery, so the Statehouse apparently is relieved of any worry the religious right is on the march.

As we pointed out here Monday, an appeal to "centrism" can be admirable. After all, it connotes an openness to ideas, compromise and constructive problem-solving. It also can mean, as the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises showed so arrestingly, an unprincipled surrender to Leviathan, which is to say a coercive state that will do anything to live up to its omnipotent pretensions.

We do not offer Mises’ prescient analysis as a criticism of the governor’s genuine good will. We bring it up as a helpful reminder of Schwarzenegger’s political roots, the sort of free-market thinking that led the body-building actor to join forces with the libertarian Reason Foundation, to endorse the body of Nobel economist Milton Friedman’s work — and which impelled him to go into politics in the first place.

What does it mean, in politics, to have had a "Damascus experience"? Does it mean abandoning all that you held dear before, shaken into conversion either by conviction or convenience? If so, was it conviction or, indeed, convenience? Does it really mean $12 billion in new state spending, which the governor promises somehow won’t include a tax increase?

The governor wants everyone in the state — he calls it a "nation-state," in which he includes children of illegal immigrants, raising all sorts of constitutional questions — to be covered by health insurance. Never mind the faint expectation of omnipotence, universal care is a laudable goal, precisely the sort of goal that calls for deliberations beyond partisanship.

Accordingly, his plan calls for employers to create tax-free accounts into which workers could save for the health care of their choice. These are called Health Savings Accounts, and several other states have encouraged them. This is an excellent approach, consistent with the early Schwarzenegger. No evidence of conversion there.

At the same time, he wants to force insurance companies to reward policy holders for enrolling in wellness programs, such as memberships in gyms. Nice. But the competitive market already is coaxing insurers to push wellness. Do they need the state to force them? Did the governor convert to strong-arming business?

Maybe Milton Friedman and St. Paul both should call their offices.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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