|What’s Really at Stake With ObamaCare Legal Battle|
By Quin Hillyer
Thursday, February 23 2012
The battle over ObamaCare is really a fight about freedom. Regarding the centrality of freedom to the very identity of the United States, the philosophical chasm between the American political left and right is vast. On health care, as on so many other issues, the left doesn’t even recognize freedom as a valid concern. Conservatives, on the other hand, see liberty as paramount, in a way the left willfully refuses to understand.
Such were the almost unavoidable conclusions from a February 9 National Press Club forum on ObamaCare’s constitutionality that amounted to a debate between two of the nation’s most prominent state attorneys general. Conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia, of course, is the AG who brought the first case, and won the first decision, against ObamaCare’s individual insurance mandate. Martha Coakley of Massachusetts is the liberal standard-bearer who managed to lose Ted Kennedy’s longtime U.S. Senate seat to Republican Scott Brown.
Repeatedly stressing a theme sure to give succor to Mitt Romney’s Republican opponents, Coakley insisted that the Massachusetts health care plan championed by Romney is “clearly a prototype” for ObamaCare – and that Romneycare’s “experiment” with an individual mandate provided Congress and President Obama with a “rational basis” for imposing such a mandate on the whole country. A “rational basis” is, of course, a Supreme Court-created standard for helping determine the constitutionality of a congressional act.
Never one to be terribly impressed by actual evidence (as noted in the film “Conviction”) and in several Dorothy Rabinowitz columns), Coakley pretended as if no other relevant Supreme Court precedent gave hope to those like Cuccinelli who challenge the law. “It is not even a close call,” she said: ObamaCare is constitutional.
For it to be “not even a close call” is for individual liberty to be completely out of the picture. For the government to be able to require that its citizens buy a particular product is for it to have power in the economic realm that is effectively unlimited – and that has never been exercised before. (The Congressional Research Service, in 2010 cast doubt on ObamaCare’s constitutionality, and the Congressional Budget Office way back in 1994 wrote that, “A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action.”) For a top legal official to not even acknowledge that a completely “novel” and “unprecedented” federal power at least raises serious questions is for her to not recognize that the very American ideal of freedom is expressed through limits on governmental authority.
Cuccinelli pounded home that theme. “This litigation relates to liberty.” ObamaCare is part of “the dramatic destruction of liberty in this country.” The individual mandate would require “that liberty be crushed.”
This crushing of liberty, Cuccinelli said, would occur in two ways. Not only would it infringe the rights of individuals directly, but it also would run roughshod over the protections for liberty that are created through the mediation of differing levels of government (state and local) that keep the national behemoth from aggregating all power to itself. This principle of “federalism,” Cuccinelli said, is very much threatened by ObamaCare. Indeed, he cited noted liberal law professor Jonathan Turley to the effect that if the challenge against the mandate fails, “federalism will be dead.”
If ObamaCare is allowed to stand, Cuccinelli said, “The government’s power to intrude on our lives for our ‘own good’ will be virtually unlimited. Some may be willing to put up with that now, when the government is doing something they like. But what happens when it starts to impose things on them that they don’t like? Then, it will be too late…. In 1788, James Madison spoke of the need for the Constitution. He said, ‘There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations.’ Yes, parts of our health care system need to be fixed…. But there are better solutions than giving up our freedom.”
Against that argument, Coakley’s prepared text mentioned the word “freedom” not a single time. The word “liberty” came only once, when, without any explanation, she dismissed out of hand the idea that a “liberty interest” is even implicated by the law. (For the professional left, liberty is not a value in itself, but only an “interest.”) And Coakley mentioned “rights” only once as well – not in terms of the rights of people against the government, but instead “the right of Congress – under the Commerce Clause – to mandate the participation of one individual….” [My emphasis added.]
The modern “liberal” mindset clearly has nothing to do with the root of the word “liberal.” Liberty is entirely forsaken. And when it is, our dearest heritage as Americans is seriously imperiled.
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