That both political parties can spin the 2008 legislative session to their advantage tells you all you need to know about politics in Minnesota: It is all about outcomes and has little to do with principle. A telling vote at the end of the session, the 127-7 House vote to pass a health care reform bill, provides both a microcosm of politics as usual and a hint of things to come.

The bipartisan S.F. 3780 is essentially the same health care bill that Gov. Tim Pawlenty had vetoed last week (H.F. 3391). The legislation is a slightly watered-down version of the Governor’s Health Care Transformation Task Force report, which advocates a public-private partnership approach to reducing health care costs in which the two are virtually indistinguishable. It is not, however a single-payer system, which would eliminate private health insurance and put the health care system under government control.

There’s enough free-market language and hat-tipping to free-market ideas in S.F. 3780 that conservatives can make their “it’s not as bad as it could have been” victory speech sound credible. The bill makes more people eligible for state-sponsored medical care and establishes a well-fortified beachhead for further government expansion into health care, and liberals can boast the legislation was clearly their initiative. Politics as usual.

The 127 House members voting for S.F. 3780 included Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives. The group picture is in the dictionary next to the entry “bipartisan consensus.” However, the seven dissenters are far more interesting, for there is not even a hint of consensus among the “no” votes.”

Among those voting against the compromise health care reform one finds Reps. Mark Buesgens and Tom Emmer, who consistently and on principle put individual rights ahead of collective solutions. One also finds Reps. Shelly Madore and David Bly, supporters of a single-payer government-run health care system. They, too, on principle, cast votes against a compromise health care reform.

S.F. 3780 is legislation that a free-market advocate instantly recognizes is fundamentally flawed. It eschews economic principle in favor of “culprit economics,” blaming the high cost of health care on doctors providing medical treatment rather than promoting wellness and individuals living unhealthy lifestyles. Instead of putting health care dollars and decision-making in the hands of patients, the legislation regulates doctor and patient behavior.

The single-payer advocate also spots a fundamental flaw in S.F. 3780: Emphasizing wellness makes people healthier, but it doesn’t save costs. It requires “wasting” a vast amount of resources on people who would remain healthy without special preventive care and people who will develop acute and chronic diseases despite preventive medicine. The better way to reduce health care cost is eliminating administrative costs by eliminating private insurance altogether. Think Medicare for all.

It is among the seven, not the 127, where future political lines will be drawn.

The fundamental political difference is between those who believe that government is instituted among people to protect the unalienable individual rights of life, liberty and property, and those who believe that government is an instrument for creating a better world including a right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to enjoy good health; the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment.

Individual freedom and planned equality are irreconcilable positions. A better world cannot tolerate the less-than-perfect choices free individuals make. Freedom will inevitably create inequality and thus, freedom is incompatible with a planned vision for a “better world.”

That conflict cannot be compromised out of existence. It cannot be dismissed with the cliche “the truth lies somewhere in the middle.” It does not disappear under the pressure to “get something done” before midnight on the third Sunday in May. The conflict cannot be camouflaged by complex, incomprehensible legislation. It cannot be drowned out in a chorus of “Kumbaya.”

Ultimately there comes a time for every individual to choose between principle and pragmatism, between the uncertainty of freedom and the security of control, between striving for equality and striving for excellence, between just doing something and doing what is right. Whatever the memorable moments of the 2008 legislative session, it failed miserably to do the right things.

Craig Westoveris a contributing columnist to the Pioneer Press Opinion page and a senior policy fellow at the Minnesota Free Market Institute, His e-mail address is This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

This commentary originally appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Thursday, May 22, 2008.