Would Davy Crockett Have Supported Medicaid Expansion?


April 17, 2015 3:50PM

The Tennessean ran an article yesterday headlined, “Famous name among Tennessee’s uninsured,” as part of its enduring coverage of a proposal that already died twice that would have expanded Medicaid in our state. The “famous name” in question was legendary frontiersman Davy Crockett. If you care for unintended symbolism, this one is for you.

The gist of the article is that Tennessee politics have failed the legacy of one of the Volunteer State’s greatest heroes. In their enthusiasm to connect a stale tax-and-spend policy with an archetypical Tennessean, supporters of Medicaid expansion might have checked themselves. As the choice for standard-bearer for big government, Crockett makes for a perfectly awful choice. He did, after all, become famous by living outside of government control altogether and died participating in a violent revolution over, among other things, a government that became too centralized.

But before he died at the Alamo, Crockett was a legislator. His record is… not consistent with welfare expansion. Crockett’s most famous vote was to deny money to the widow of a prominent naval officer. Showing restraint that is sorely lacking today, Crockett argued that such an expenditure, however worthy, exceeded congressional authority. Future accounts had it that when asked to explain, Crockett recounted how he had once received a good civics lesson from a farmer on what the Constitution had to say about spending “what was not yours to give.”

Nobody knows if the story is fully accurate. Regardless, Crockett voted against Congress giving the widow money because he thought charity was a responsibility of people and a corruption of government. The “Not Yours To Give” speech has long been dear to advocates of limited government. It is not difficult to find. Crockett’s overall record is one of limited government. He sought to ease the tax burden on the poor. He fought for those who were in danger of losing their land because of complicated state bureaucracy. Crockett’s solutions undermine the notion that the only way to help out the poor is with welfare provision. That Crockett would support an expansion of the state’s Medicaid rolls seems highly unlikely.

Crockett well knew that governments can hurt as well as help. However unintentionally, the Tennessean has contributed to the Insure Tennessee debate by bringing in some straightforward thinking from an old character. It summons to mind another old saying: “a government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take away everything you have.” Now who said that?