A Peek Across the Political Multiverse
Hi there! Welcome to my sci-fi-political lab. That’s right! We use 24th century technology today to answer those tough questions about politics. No, I’m not a political scientist or a physicist – just your standard mad scientist – but thanks for asking. What can my equipment do? Well – I’m not sure I can explain – maybe I can show you. First we need a topic . . .
The commentariat sure seems interested in the Supreme Court decision regarding the ACA individual mandate these days. Maybe we could explore that? The conventional wisdom seems to be that the conservative justices will vote to strike down the mandate while the liberal justices will vote to uphold it. The case will probably hinge on Kennedy’s swing vote. (Please remember the part where I’m not a political scientist – this is not an analysis, just the CW).
I know that thought experiments about “what if” scenarios get tiring after a while. But today you are in luck! That machine you are leaning against (yes, it would be better if you don’t touch that) is the Counter-factuator! It allows us to see what is happening in worlds that differ from ours because of some past fork in the road. Hmm? Yes, yes, everybody wants to see what would have happened if those shots in Dallas went wide. I’m sick and tired of it. No, I will just type into the navigation unit . . . Bush . . . 2005 . . . health care reform vice social security reform . . . OK . . . let me spin this large wheel that appears to serve no purpose . . . and . . . could you throw that switch that is labeled cyclotron? Great. Here we go . . . I’m starting to get an image . . . and audio . . . adjust tracking . . .
The year is 2005. President Bush is in the White House. Republicans control both chambers of Congress (having gained seats in both in the 2004 election). The Supreme Court is composed of 4 liberals, 3 conservatives, and 2 swing votes (both appointed by Reagan). The country is involved in two wars. Iraq is starting to fall apart. Liberals are increasingly furious with Bush’s “imperial presidency”: Abu Ghraib is starting to make the news, the Plame leak is still in recent memory, the status of prisoners in Gitmo is being questioned, waterboarding hasn’t yet been banned, Kucinich has introduced legislation to impeach Cheney, etc. The partisan divide seems to be growing wider every day. Liberals are proudly putting up “Dissent is Patriotic” stickers. Man – all of this feels really familiar.
Zooming in a little closer we see the President himself in the oval office. Let’s listen: “All right. Now heads is for Social Security reform and Tails is for Healthcare reform. (flip). Healthcare reform it is.” Wow. He is the decider. We fast forward and see him explaining to the nation that the medicare/medicaid system is unsustainable and needs to be revised. Bush calls in the CEO’s and lobbyists and has closed-door meetings with Pharma, major Hospitals, and Big Insurance. He calls in Speaker Hastert and Senate Majority leader Frist and delegates the writing of the legislation to them. They announce that the goal is to eliminate or drastically reduce the size of Medicare and Medicaid. To make it happen they decide to borrow from a plan that the conservative Heritage Foundation has come up with to expand coverage. This plan includes a mandate that all individuals carry health insurance through a private company — if you don’t have coverage than you must pay a penalty (raising taxes is anathema to Republicans) through the IRS. But the plan expands coverage by requiring insurers to cover people, regardless of prior-existing conditions. Democrats derisively refer to the plan as Dubyacare (Bushcare simply has no ring to it) and do everything they can in their minority position to stop the bill.
Unfortunately, the resolution of the counter-factuator is not good enough to actually read the bill (and who would want to!). But from what we can make out of the national conversation: Dubyacare has the individual mandate/pre-existing conditions combination. It allows the elderly to use Medicare, but will slowly phase it out over the years. The poor will be directly subsidized to buy private insurance and Medicaid will also be eliminated.
Although the Democrats throw every possible legislative roadblock in the way, they simply don’t have the votes to stop Dubyacare and it passes the house by a narrow margin. The Left is apoplectic. “How can the government force you to contract with big insurance companies? This is just another case of Bush delivering our country to be governed by corporations.” So they craft a legal argument that the individual mandate is unconstitutional under the commerce clause. After all, if the government can force you to buy insurance because it wants to privatize the healthcare system, what’s to stop it from mandating that each person buy a handgun and begin to privatize our national security? What are the limits to government mandating anything it wants? The Right meets this challenge with scorn – nobody is suggesting that the government could make you buy a gun. That would be ridiculous. Besides where in the constitution does it say that the federal government can manage health insurance like Medicare and Medicaid? So this plan allows the elderly and poor to escape the tyrannical monopoly of the government systems and increases liberty and freedom of choice. The mandate is a a tiny price to pay for that.
Ahh – now it is time for the oral argument in front of the Supreme Court. The government lawyers seem to really getting hammered by the liberal justices on what limits government would have if they uphold the mandate? Justice Breyer brings up the “Gun Mandate” argument and the government concedes that it would have the power to mandate gun ownership, but that it would be very bad policy. Liberals are overjoyed that things went so well during the oral argument.
The conventional wisdom is that the conservative justices will vote to uphold the mandate, the liberal justices will vote to strike down the mandate and the case will be decided by the swing justices.
I can’t wait to see what happens . . . the court is about to hand down the decision . . . Wait! What is happening! Everything is growing fuzzy . . .Was that the TARDIS that just flew by? . . . Oh no . . . Not Again! FISH FISH FISH! Run for your life! The whole lab is going to blow . . . . . . . . [Explosion].
Dang. That’s the third Counter-factuator I’ve lost in as many months. I was sure that counter-balancing the flux capacitor with a Mark III Boseian condenser would do the trick. But it must be something else . . . .
Anyway. What do you think happened? Was the conventional wisdom correct that the liberal justices would vote to strike down the law while the conservative justices would uphold it? If so, isn’t it weird that that is exactly the opposite of the conventional wisdom of our world? If not, why do you think that is?
This whole Counter-factuator experience has really disillusioned me. First, it means I have to build a new freaking machine. But also, it suddenly seems to me like the court justices vote for their preferred policy outcome. Whereas before I was convinced that they were really applying the process of law to come to a decision. Am I wrong? I hope so. Please tell me why . . .