Dennis Prager: A response to a reader

Two of my favorite journals ever since I was in college have been Commentary and The New York Review of Books. The first is a major right-wing publication, the second a major left-wing one. Though on opposite sides of just about every issue, they both have a feature that should be present in any journal that takes ideas seriously: a response from the authors to letters to the editor.

In that vein, I will periodically devote space either in this journal’s letters section or in my column to responding to letters written in reaction to a column of mine.

I have decided to begin this process by responding to the letter of John F. Beckmann published in this week’s letters (Page 7). Written well, it nevertheless, in my view, illustrates much of where liberal critics and I differ. It should, therefore, be of interest to both conservatives and liberals.

Mr. Beckmann begins his letter with this: “Dennis Prager warned those of us who support health care reform that we will be scorned by our descendants when they are faced with long waits for doctors and inferior medical care.”

Mr. Beckmann misrepresents me.

This is what I actually wrote about our descendants:

“Those of us Jews who oppose the expansion of the welfare state and cry at the thought of America becoming like Western Europe can only say to American Jews yet unborn, ‘Try to forgive your leftist Jewish ancestors. They meant well.’”

As is clear, with regard to future generations’ assessment of our generation, I did not write about the longer waits and inferior medical care that so many physicians and I are certain will ensue from this bill. I wrote about the growth of the welfare state and America becoming like Western Europe.

If Mr. Beckmann thinks that America becoming like Germany or Norway is a good thing, he should have so argued — many liberals want America to emulate Western Europe’s welfare states. That would have addressed the primary concern of my column.

My whole column opposing the Democrats’ health care bill — including its very title — was about the growth of the state and how destructive I believe this is for all Americans and for Jews in particular.

So why did Mr. Beckmann ignore the point of what I wrote? Because that was the only way he could portray me as being selfishly motivated in my opposition to the health care bill. As he writes: My view is “solely ‘what’s in it for me’” and that “contradicts fundamental Jewish teachings.”

I point this out because what the writer did is regularly done by liberal critics of conservatives. Rather than refute conservatives’ arguments, they charge conservatives with being selfish people. And mean-spirited, bigoted, intolerant, racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic and any of the other many one-word liberal dismissals of conservatives as people.

That is why I am sure that many liberal readers of Mr. Beckmann’s letter nodded in agreement as they read his letter. I wonder how many among those who read my column said to themselves — “but that’s not what Prager wrote about.”

Then Mr. Beckmann cites Maimonides writing about Jewish laws that demand that Jews set up provisions for health care among fellow Jews.

A couple of reactions:

One is that we have been having a debate in America about universal health insurance, not universal health care. Virtually every person in the United States, including noncitizens and people here illegally, has access to health care.

Second, since Mr. Beckmann would like ancient and medieval Jewish laws to guide American lawmakers, does he also wish to have America be guided by the Talmud and Maimonides with regard to abortion? Jewish law, restated by Maimonides, holds that abortion should be illegal unless the mother’s life is directly threatened by the fetus.

Third, if the only thing the Democrats’ health care bill addressed were universal health insurance, few conservatives or other Americans would have been as exercised about this bill. But that is hardly the case — the bill is 2,409 pages and fundamentally reshapes the American government and economy.

The bill is about an unprecedented expansion of the state into Americans’ lives. That is the issue, not universal health insurance, which we all would, ideally, like to see. In my column, I quoted President Obama himself as stating that the bill and opposition to it were about the size of government, not about health insurance.

Fourth, I don’t think Maimonides would have approved of one generation virtually bankrupting succeeding generations. America cannot afford this bill financially — or morally, if we assume that liberty is a moral value.

Finally, if Mr. Beckmann and those who feel as he does are really opposed to the “what’s in it for me?” mentality, they should abandon most liberal and left-wing policies. Over the course of the past few generations, those policies have engendered a narcissism never seen before in American life. The more government does for people, the more it creates the very selfishness that Mr. Beckmann and others claim to oppose and ascribe to conservatives.

Ironically, it is precisely because we conservatives so fear the self-centered mindset that will ultimately bring America down that we will do everything in our power to repeal this latest — and unprecedentedly partisan — liberal attempt to have Americans ask not what they can do for their country but what, more and more and more, their country can do for them.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, columnist, author and public speaker. He can be heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) weekdays 9 a.m. to noon. His Web site is