The ferocious debate over the future of the American healthcare system, which has dominated the political landscape for well over a year, effectively ended Sunday night with the historic vote in the House of Representatives to approve the Democratic healthcare bill. The finalizing actions in the Senate are just a few leftover details. Whatever one's point of view, one cannot deny that this represents a tremendous victory for President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.
It's impossible to know what Thomas Jefferson would have thought about all this. On the one hand, he was always extremely suspicious of the federal government gaining too much power, and it might easily be thought that he would naturally oppose this bill because of the great power it delegates to the federal government. On the other hand, Jefferson was a ferocious enemy of moneyed interests that took advantage of ordinary citizens; he certainly would have cast modern health insurance companies into that category and sought to restrain their damaging activities by every means necessary, just as he did with the Hamiltonians.
The fact of the matter is that the notion of a "healthcare system" didn't even exist in Jefferson's time, and it would have been very alien to him. But he believed firmly in the Enlightenment ideal of progress made possible by human reason and rationality. He would have seen the advances of medical science as the common property of all humanity, and would have seen the denial of the benefits of medical science to poor people as a violation of their natural rights.
The healthcare bill that has now, at long last, become the law of the land, is very far from perfect. The Republicans choose not to behave as a responsible opposition party and therefore foolishly let the opportunity of playing a constructive role slip away from them. It fell to moderate Democrats to strip the bill of its more dangerous provisions, such as the now notorious public option and those parts of the bill that might have opened the way for federal funding of abortion.
But Jefferson would have smiled to know that all Americans, poor as well as rich, have now taken a giant step forward in the quest for equality, because equal access to medical care is such as basic human need that only the most cruel of people could claim that it was not a human right.