Several decades ago, I visited Montpelier to watch the legislative sausage-making process in action. As it turned out, the street theater out front of the capitol building that day was far more enlightening (and entertaining than the under-the-Golden-Dome committee room proceedings.
Perhaps some of the following details of my fuzzy recollection are not historically precise, but I present them only to provide background for and support of what I learned.
On State Street-more precisely, on the sidewalk fronting on the ag building-was a mini-convention of motorcycle aficionados, mightily upset over a recently proposed helmet requirement. There were speakers declaiming such subjects as the erosion of personal freedom and the virtues of choice (just as that noun was beginning to take on a whole 'nother political meaning) and a few random comments on mandatory seat-belts, child-safety seats, and the leave-us-alone option more politically popular in a more politically conservative New Hampshire.
One of that group was Rod Clarke, the erstwhile Montpelier bureau chief for news service UPI. Rod, I speculated, was finding in midlife that outdoor biking is more fun, if less financially rewarding, than indoor news reporting; it was he, if memory serves me, who made the most useful comments of the event.
Rod spoke first to recognize the fact that a helmetless rider whose skull engages the pavement is likely to require a lot of expensive medical services (which he, personally, most likely won't pay for) and that it was unreasonable for bikers, should the unthinkable happen, to ride helmetless and impose the costs-thus dumped on unwilling others.
Then Rod proposed a constructive contractual alternative: that any biker who values zero-helmet riding sign a waiver releasing the taxpaying public from paying for his future skull repairs. The helmetless rider would either pay for it himself (or herself) out of his/her own trust fund, by insurance-or eschewing such expensive measures-expect only sedatives, a warm bed, and a tight roof until he assumes room temperature as a result of his preventable, but non-prevented, injuries. As I recall, there were Easy Rider types in the small crowd waving copies of just such a proposed document.
UPI isn't what it was-that is, a pillar of American Fourth Estate professionalism-and is now much diminished; it's a wholly-owned subsidiary of a Korean religious organization, but it at least survives, barely. Sadly, Rod's contract proposal didn't survived, but it should have.
That's because it offered a logical solution to the contemporary health insurance debate impasse: Critics on one side, arguing that Article VIII of the U.S. Constitution doesn't exist (and government has no authority to pretend that it does) and defenders on the other side arguing that we're all in this together and that everyone must contribute. No one on the choice side of the debate is offering to waive, as the Easy Rider bikers did, a possible future service demand; no one on the mandatory side is offering to make insurance purchase optional or even risk based (as it is with, say, cars, boats, houses and, I suspect, with motorcycles).
In the early 19th century, when fire protection wasn't a government service but a private contract, insurance buyers displayed the medallion of their chosen emergency service-contractor at their front door. Homeowners were free to self-insure and take their chances.
Today, it's a government service even if many of the best are volunteers. It's fair to wonder whether, like so many other paid for by all government services, it might not be better executed in Rod Clarke fashion-that is, through individual choice and private contract.
I dare not speculate on the merits of the Mandatory Motorcycle Helmets Because We All benefit When All Bikers ride Cerebrally Protected Doctrine. Maybe I've seen "Easy Rider" too many times.
Columnist Martin Harris is a retired Vermont architect now living in Tennessee. He believes it's easier to understand Vermont politics when viewed from afar.