The Bottom Line
Published 7:50 am Sunday, June 15, 2008
Brain cancer and fallacies of liberalism
By Tray Smith
Sen. Ted Kennedy, in an unusual circumstance of moral inspiration, has received much national support throughout his recent battle against disease. Many of his sympathizers have gone so far as to convert his suffering into a national cause which, like many other subjects involving the Kennedys, is an exclusively political endeavor. Ironically, this endeavor, designed to rouse Americans behind increased funding for cancer research in response to the suffering of the Senate’s “liberal lion,” reveals one of liberalism’s most crucial fallacies: the belief that the government can, through the expenditure of its citizen’s resources, end its citizens’ suffering.
In the last edition of “Newsweek,” columnist Jonathan Alter gave this fallacy a voice when he seemingly called for doubling cancer research over 10 years, and lamented the fact that we spent more in six months on the War in Iraq than in 30 years on the war against cancer. However, Alter conspicuously did not mention heart disease, which kills more people in the U.S. than cancer, or automobile safety, the lack of which causes several thousand highway deaths each year. Maybe Alter realizes that the government cannot respond to the suffering of every senator with a multibillion dollar investment. Thus we come to these questions: Why cancer? Why Kennedy?
Indeed, Sen. Kennedy has undergone treatment at Duke, which is by no measure a substandard medical facility. That treatment has generated hope for his survival, which may very possibly be secured without additional resources from the government. It may well turn out that Sen. Kennedy’s struggle reveals not the shortcomings of cancer research, but the advancements. Only through great medical progress have we reached the point alone where people can live to be Sen. Kennedy’s age, much less survive the removal of a malignant glioma.
Episodes of national grievance are difficult experiences because they highlight the negative encounters each of us may one day face. But famous personalities diagnosed with terminal diseases act only as a symbol of the millions of ordinary Americans already suffering from various conditions. The federal government cannot base national policy around reactionary politics formed as a response to an individual’s suffering without regarding the multitude of other diseases.
Politicians may not take the liberty to assume their actions will be entirely beneficial, either. Citizens, after having recognized the shortcomings of society, have long been apt to form organizations to address them. To respond to the exponential growth in cancer patients, those citizens created the American Cancer Society (ACS), which raises funds for cancer research. But as a result of the pervasive affects of government intervention, the ACS more than quintupled the amount of resources it expends on lobbying elected officials from $800,000 in 1998 to $4,720,000 in 2007, at the expense of its more traditional cancer research programs. And who can blame the organization? When Uncle Sam is willing to throw out billions of dollars, it is more effective to achieve your goals by lobbying Congress than raising funds yourself. But only when Uncle Sam is involved can lobbying be considered a charitable exercise, and the political process be considered a means for compassion.
Tray Smith is a political columnist for the Atmore Advance. He is a student at Escambia County High School and can be reached at tsmith_90@ hotmail.com.