The word “voucher” has become a dirty word with the political Left in this country and their PR campaign has succeeded in giving it a negative connotation with a large swath of swing voters. Whether its education or Medicare, all one needs to do is accuse someone of wanting to “voucherize” the system—the word chosen by President Obama in his convention speech at Charlotte, and one gains the political high ground.
But why? At what point did we decide that a government issuing a voucher for services—be it health care or education, was tantamount to shutting down the hospitals and taking a crowbar to the schools? The political left has succeeded in selling the American public on the idea that their own very narrow policy prescriptions are the only way for a government to step in and aid the idea of social justice, in ensuring fair chances at education for everyone and health care for the elderly.
This is not true though. The federal government has been in the “voucher” business for a long time, even if it’s not always been called that. The Food Stamp program, piloted during the New Deal and permanently implemented during the Great Society, works on the idea of the government giving redeemable vouchers—or coupons, or whatever you want to call them—to people in need, and then those people cashing them in at the grocery store. I’ve yet to hear the president or his political allies say this is an outrage and the only real way to feed the hungry is to establish a government-run grocery chain where everyone is obligated to go.
The same is true with education and Medicare. Instead of running their own schools, the government should issue a tuition voucher to all families, so everyone can have the same privilege the Elite Left has in choosing where their kids are education. When it comes to Medicare, instead of trying to be their own insurance company, the feds should be issuing a voucher to senior citizens, enabling them to shop for their own health care.
It’s one thing for those on the political Left to disagree with these prescriptions. Thoughtful writers have, and while I don’t agree with them, I don’t question their motives. I do, however, question the motivation in implying that the left-wing method is the only proposal that meets the criteria of social justice.
This tactic is not only dishonest, but it’s highly self-absorbed. For the sake of demonizing one’s current political opponents, a climate is being created where more conservative, market-oriented voters who might be amenable to innovative ideas to create a more just economic structure get increasingly turned off to the whole concept of social justice. The increasing popularity of the writings of the late Ayn Rand—a genuine right-wing radical—is testament to that.
Considerable fault for this estrangement lies with those who perverted the use of the term “social justice” to serve their own narrow political goals—if it’s an officeholder, those narrow goals are winning the next election, if it’s an activist those goals are usually nothing more than wanting to win an argument and feel morally superior to one’s neighbor.
Vouchers bring together the best in the Democratic Party’s traditional New Deal values and merge them with the innovative thinking that exists in free market think tanks sympathetic to Republicans. It’s a truly bipartisan idea, and if the current political environment says it’s not, then it’s not the idea that needs changing.
Dan Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of TheSportsNotebook.com