Notably absent from Erik’s defense of the Affordable Care Act is a discussion of the bill’s Constitutionality or the wisdom of compelling everyone to purchase private insurance plans. I find this mildly astonishing. Have we really become so inured to the expansion of government powers that folks who identify as civil libertarians – folks like Erik, or Andrew Sullivan – don’t bat an eye at the insurance mandate?
Maybe I’m deluding myself. Maybe I haven’t realized that libertarian concerns have become purely tactical – another stick to beat the ruling party with while you’re out of power. The Democrats did it while Bush was in the White House: After retaking the government, they promptly entrenched their predecessor’s national security apparatus minus a few cosmetic changes. Meanwhile, the Republicans have eagerly seized on the language of liberty to attack a health care overhaul aimed at people who scare their donor base and don’t vote conservative anyway.
Besides, libertarian concerns are an elitist fixation. I’ve got bread on the table and haven’t been maimed in some horrific terrorist attack, so of course I have the luxury of whining about limits and liberty on the sidelines. Worrying about a health insurance mandate or warrantless wiretapping is the province of over-entitled dodos.
So yes, I understand the cynical case against taking the rhetoric of liberty seriously. But I tell you true: the insurance mandate freaks me out. On some primordial level, I find the idea of being compelled by the government to purchase insurance deeply unsettling. And I’m baffled by how little concern this mechanism has raised in certain quarters. I read a story on Judge Vinson’s ruling that snidely identified his references to Madison and Jefferson as “Tea Party dog-whistles” (I’m paraphrasing from memory). You would think that the Framers’ insights would be essential to our understanding of the Constitution, but the perception of these issues has apparently become so jaded that invoking Madison or Jefferson invites comparisons to some crazy Beck-inspired rally.
To preempt the inevitable, I’m no tea partier, I don’t think we’re teetering on the brink of the totalitarian abyss, and I believe with all my heart that the ACA’s supporters think it’s the best pragmatic solution to a pressing social problem. But the mandate still scares me, and I’m shocked that a debate over something this significant elicits such dismissive responses from folks like Erik.