Tea parties and town hall meetings are not the only signs of public discontent. There are more substantial cultural indicators. One of the most remarkable is the rapidly rising sales of Ayn Rand's 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged.
In 2008 more copies of that novel were sold than in any year in its 52-year history. And more copies were sold in the first half of 2009 than in all of 2008.
Why are hundreds of thousands of people suddenly reading a serious, intellectual, eleven-hundred-page novel written half a century ago? Perhaps it is because events in Washington, D.C. are disconcertingly developing like the plot of Atlas Shrugged. Not least among these events is the push for government control over health care.
The proposed public insurance "option" to create competition for insurance companies by imposing $100 billion in fees on them is reminiscent of the novel's Directive 10-289, the government decree that imposed an endless list of mutually exclusive requirements with criminal penalties on all aspects of the economy. From Congress we now hear that government insurance is good because it provides "competition," but any of the pitiful few private alternatives to Medicare must be obliterated to fund it. For some reason the wonders of competition must be forbidden for Medicare. Such reasoning should remind us of Directive 10-289.
Disturbingly absent from reform proposals is any acknowledgement that individuals, as patients or physicians, have any rights to resist omnipotent government. Health care is a commodity that the government can seize and redistribute as it sees fit. The "right to health care" is an Orwellian inversion that means no one should have access to any health care at all unless it is provided or rigidly controlled by the government.
This agenda will increasingly make physicians targets, who are now, we learn from The New York Times, "unabashed profiteers." Like the investors and employees of insurance and drug companies, their rights may be wiped out by the new masters of medicine in Congress.
A minor character in Atlas Shrugged, Dr. Hendricks, stated in stark terms what Americans will eventually face if the concept of individualism is divorced from medical care: "Let them discover the kind of doctors their system will now produce. Let them discover, in their operating rooms and their hospital wards, that it is not safe to place their life in the hands of a man whose life they have throttled. It is not safe if he is the sort of man who resents it — and still less safe if he is the sort who doesn't."
We must hope that those who are being driven to read Atlas Shrugged by the government power grab in health care and other aspects of American life will find more in the novel than an echo of breaking news. They might find a moral basis to defend their right and the right of their physicians to make their own decisions about health care, free from government coercion.
Richard E. Ralston is Executive Director of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine, Newport Beach, California.