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Why Rick Santorum Is No Nelson Mandela

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The death of Nelson Mandela has prompted such a deluge of commentary and reminiscences that it seems everyone in the media has a memory to share or at least something supposedly profound to say about his passing. Many of the comments are moving, while others are more about the commentator than the person being commented upon. And then there are the remarks that are downright disgusting.

Enter Rick Santorum. The former senator from Pennsylvania, perennial presidential poseur and Penn State alumnus offered his thoughts on Mandela on Fox News, but felt compelled to include the network's current obligatory talking point. He praised Mandela for standing up to injustice, but then went on to add that "we have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people's lives, and Obamacare is front and center in that."

So in Santorum's book, affordable health care is as much an injustice as apartheid, the systematic dehumanization of 85 percent of South Africa's population that existed until Mandela and others brought it to an end. After majority rule was established, one of the first tasks was writing a new constitution that would protect the rights of all South Africans and not just the privilege of the white minority. Among the fundamental rights enshrined in that document are universal access to health care services, including reproductive health care, access to emergency medical treatment and basic health care services for children.

Those rights stand in stark contrast to the beliefs of someone like Santorum who thinks a person is entitled only to the health care one can afford to buy. The fact that 60 percent of the personal bankruptcies in this country come about due to medical bills is no cause for government concern. Being one illness away from financial ruin will just make people work harder and benefit the economy.

The fact that this country spends about twice, in percentage terms, of its economic output on health care as other developed democracies and gets results that would embarrass third world countries is no symptom of the sickness of the system. People like Santorum thing all that is necessary is to let the marketplace work its magic.

But if someone asked him how much it cost in total the last time he went to the doctor, whether the services he received were better than the alternatives available, and how much he would spend the next time he goes to the doctor, he would, if honest, have to say he had no idea. And if asked how much he would pay to maintain his health, he, and anyone else, would answer, "whatever it takes."

In other words, the consumer has no idea what the product costs, how good it is relative to alternatives and, if necessary, will pay any price for it since, without it, little in life is possible. So how can the market operate efficiently in the case of health care when none of the conditions for market efficiency are met? It can't and only some level of government intervention can improve it even a little. But that matters naught to the well-insured multi-millionaires who do all the talking on Fox.

In the last election campaign, Santorum accused President Obama of being a snob for supposedly saying everyone should have a bachelor's degree. Santorum knew that was a lie. What the President said is that in today's global economy everyone should have some post-secondary education to be able to compete. But Santorum wanted to appeal to the bigotry, fear and ignorance of a certain class of voters and therefore the facts didn't matter.

Mandela appealed to different emotions and will remembered by the world for that, for the good he did and for his leadership in the remarkable and peaceful transition of his country. Santorum, on the other hand, will be known as the second biggest disgrace to ever come out of Penn State.