I keep reading that requiring us to do something, as opposed to requiring us to not do something, is a new step, and conservatives are sounding alarms all over the internet that freedom died as a result of the Supreme Court upholding the health care mandate, and that we’ve crossed a line into government mandated oblivion. But the health care mandate is not the first mandate. Several months ago the story of George Washington’s gun mandate was making the rounds. Other examples are in a discussion about the draft, posted by Greg Sargent, and in a post in Daily Kos about a railway case, which quotes NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel (1937):
The decree which we affirmed in that case required the railway company to treat with the representative chosen by the employees and also to refrain from entering into collective labor agreements with any one other than their true representative as ascertained in accordance with the provisions of the act.
In other words, the railway company was required to do something, and face penalties for not doing it.
With all of the power that the federal government already has, much gained with the support of right wing ideologues, the idea that this power to enforce a mandate represents a bold new step seems petty and hypocritical. The court didn’t grant any new power, it affirmed power that already exists and refused to carve out a special exception. It should have affirmed this power under the commerce clause, as argued by the administration. As a Kos commenter noted, referencing Gonzales v. Raich:
Growing pot on your patio to smoke yourself is clearly interstate commerce, but a central issue facing any effort to reform a sector that occupies 18% of our economy, well that’s just going too far.
But instead, the Supreme Court affirmed the power as falling under the power to tax. Either way, the power was there.
If freedom died, it died long before the Affordable Care Act. It was dead on or before 1942, when Roscoe Filburn was told that he couldn’t grow his own wheat for his own use because doing so interfered with interstate commerce. So don’t blame Obama.
Abuses of eminent domain and laws against personal use of home-grown medicine are examples of overreaching government that I’m all for rolling back, along with all of the Monsanto and factory-meat friendly laws which make it almost impossible for a small farmer to legally sell his product. But I don’t want to go back to the days before equal rights, national fire codes, child labor laws and environmental protection.
Unlike eminent domain abuses, invasive drug laws, and overregulation of home-made produce and meat, the Affordable Care Act won’t prevent us from doing things that we’re free to do. There are plenty of examples of over-regulation and abuses of federal power. But we didn’t suddenly become unfree last Thursday and we didn’t cross a line into new territory.
There are plenty of ways for Americans to become freer. Allowing health care companies to keep increasing the cost of health care isn’t one of them.