This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
In 1831, England's first known case of Indian cholera (so called because anything so horrid could not possibly be British) tortured and killed a sailor in the port of Sunderland.
The response was immediate. His Majesty's Army surrounded the town to stop the dread disease from spreading.
Pathogens respect neither national borders nor armed detachments. The disease first made its way north, to Scotland, then back south, to London. Before the epidemic ran its course, it had killed at least 52,000 people.
Thus was demonstrated the utter folly of applying a military solution to a public health problem.
In 2017, the problems of crime and drug trafficking associated with the seemingly intractable homeless problem in the Rio Grande neighborhood of Salt Lake City were getting so bad that Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes was wondering out loud if it might be time to call out the National Guard.
If that's all that gets done, Hughes, like Earl Gray (the prime minister, not the tea) before him, would soon see the folly of applying a military solution to a public health crisis.
Because that's what we are dealing with. A public health emergency. Like cholera or tuberculosis or the Spanish flu. The people who suffer from it may pass on symptoms violent crime, drug trafficking, the decline of whole neighborhoods to others. Individuals often need to be dealt with by the criminal justice system.
In the aggregate, though, the lost souls, the addicted, the mentally ill, the aimless and helpless, are not an enemy army. They are victims of a disease, a disease that we might well have an urge to quarantine but are obligated as human beings to try to cure both for the benefit of those already suffering and those who might fall victim later.
Actually, Hughes' National Guard idea might not be so bad, as a short-term shock to the system. Even better might be his next thought, a homelessness czar to cut across jurisdictional and bureaucratic barriers.
It is still itchy to think that the man who was more responsible than any other single person for stopping the expansion of health care services to the poor and near-poor in Utah – the clear best first step to take in addressing the problem of homelessness is now the one making the most noise about how it is time to Do Something!
In a logical and kind universe, anyone really concerned with the homelessness issue would have pulled that lever first. Not our Legislature.
Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act? Too Obama. The Healthy Utah variation put forward by Gov. Gary Herbert? He didn't offer me anything in return. Soldiers with fixed bayonets? Now you're talking!
It is in keeping with what seems to pass for conservative thought these days. Government big, ham-fisted, confiscatory government cannot and should be asked to do anything kind and helpful. It just not what the state is for.
No, the state exists to be mean to people, and the challenge of managing government is to do all we can to make sure it is only mean to the people who have it coming. The rest of us are left blissfully alone in our pursuit of happiness.
There's more than a nugget of truth in that.
Much of our constitutional heritage is the idea that government can't tell you what to say or read or think or believe. In some minds, that leaves government with nothing more important to do than to arrest and punish bad guys at home and kill enemies in large numbers abroad. Due process is important because there is just too much risk that the mean-by-nature government, whether through malevolence or sloppiness, will take out its limitless anger on innocent people. Or people I know. Or who look like me. Or are rich.
All this comes as other Utah politicians are doing what they can to take away once and for all the possibility that Medicaid expansion or other knobs and buttons of Obamacare might actually help people because, in this universe, government doesn't help. At least, it doesn't help people who haven't already helped themselves.
Sen. Mike Lee, for example, has no trouble keeping a straight face when he argues that people must be free to not buy health insurance, or free to buy health insurance that is cheap because it doesn't cover anything, because being part of a pool that would actually work is nothing but a millstone around people's necks.
That makes as much sense as arguing that each of us should be able to exempt ourselves from paying the taxes that support the police, the fire department, the county health department or the National Guard because we are willing to take the chance that we will never need their services and, if we do, we will pay the bill then. How long would any of those institutions last in that scenario?
But, hey, it's your funeral.
George Pyle, the Tribune's editorial page editor, would like to be excused from paying the portion of his taxes that supports Utah's congressional delegation. email@example.com