Rand Paul under fire for equating the right to health care with slavery

By:  James R. Carroll
Louisville Courier-Journal

WASHINGTON - Sen. Rand Paul has come under fire from African American leaders for saying that people who believe in the right to health care also believe in enslaving health care workers.

"With regard to the idea of whether or not you have a right to health care, you have to realize what that implies," Paul, a Bowling Green, Ky., ophthalmologist, said at a Senate hearing Wednesday on community health care centers. "It's not an abstraction. I'm a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me."

"It means you believe in slavery," he said.

Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville chapter of the NAACP, called the Kentucky Republican's remarks "ludicrous."

"If the statement were not made by a United States senator from the state of Kentucky, before a subcommittee of the United States Senate, I would dismiss it as ridiculous," Cunningham said in an interview.

"To compare (the right to health care) to slavery, come on," he added. "Does he think the president of the United States, who is African American, or the entire membership of the Congressional Black Caucus, who certainly understand slavery, would support health care?"

State Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, said Paul was "making a good argument for himself, to qualify himself as a racist," though he added, "I'm not quite there yet. I just say he's an irresponsible, ignorant individual."

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., and a member of the black caucus, said the Kentucky senator should apologize to the nation for his insensitive remarks, which he said were an attack on President Barack Obama's health care reform law.

"As an anti-federalist, pro-states' rights proponent, Senator Rand Paul's statements linking slavery to the Affordable Care Act demonstrate a dangerous, ignorant, and unsupportable revisionist view of American history that should not be allowed to stand unchallenged under the guise of his concern about the role of the federal government," Jackson said in a statement.

"From before the Civil War to the present, states' rights have been the operative legal philosophy of anti-government activists like Senator Paul," the congressman said. "Throughout history conservatives have argued that slavery was a state right. If slavery was a state right, then states' rights can never be human rights."

Paul's office did not respond to a request for comment on the criticism.

The senator's remarks came during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's retirement and aging subcommittee. Paul is the ranking Republican on the panel.
The chairman of the panel, Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent, wrote a section of the health care reform law that will spend an additional $11 billion over five years operating and expanding community health centers.

Paul complained about that spending and used the slavery analogy at some length in a discussion about the right to health care.

"It means that you're going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses," Paul said.

"If you have right to their services - basically, once you imply a belief in a right to one's services - do you have a right to plumbing? Do you have a right to water? Do you have a right to food? You're basically saying that you believe in slavery. You're saying you believe in taking and extracting from another person," he said.

"Our founding documents were very clear about this," he said. "You have a right to pursue happiness, but there's no guarantee of physical comfort. There's no guarantee of concrete items. In order to give something concrete or someone's service, you've got to take it from someone. So there's an implied threat of force.

"If I'm a physician in your community and you say you have a right to health care, do you have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you? That's ultimately what the right to free health care would be," Paul asserted. "If you believe in a right to health care, you're believing in basically the use of force to conscript someone to do your bidding."

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, said "it's fair to say that Senator Paul and I have slight philosophical differences."

He then asked Dana Kraus, a panel witness and a family physician at the St. Johnsbury Family Health Center in Vermont:

"Do you, as an employee of a federally qualified health center, consider yourself a slave?"
The query drew laughter from the audience.

"I love my job," Kraus answered. "I chose to work there. I do not consider myself a slave. Thank you."

Cunningham said Kentucky has many community health centers.

"They serve a vital purpose in providing health care, especially to underserved areas," he said.