At last, we have a resolution to the health care debate, if only someone could tell us what it is.
The Supreme Court has ruled it “constitutional,” with Chief Justice Roberts providing a surprising “aye” swing vote, confounding those who have considered him an imp of Satan since the Bush/Gore election (and earlier). Justice Kennedy, widely nominated for the swing voter position prior to the decision, actually voted with Scalia, Alito and Thomas in dissent, adding to the befuddlement of some, but confirming his perversity for those who have always suspected him of harboring dangerously unsound tendencies.
Curiously, the Court delivered a bizarre variety of insult to the President, who, having solemnly promised us that this legislation would not saddle Americans with new taxes, now finds that the legal basis for the mandate lies in the Court’s decision that it is — a tax. Oh, well.
Reaction to the Court’s ruling was mixed. Republicans generally condemned the decision, including presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who said:
“Let’s make clear that we understand what the Court did and did not do. What the Court did today was say that Obamacare does not violate the Constitution. What they did not do was say that Obamacare is good law or that it’s good policy.”
Actually, it’s not the Court’s job to say if it’s good law or good policy, but this nicety is often lost on many, including those who confuse the court’s equally contentious ruling on the Citizens United suit with an endorsement of corporate influence-peddling. The Court says “Yes, the Constitution says you can do that” or “No — now shut the hell up,” not because they are enthusiastic about the outcome but because their job is to determine the legality, not wisdom, of the legislation or decision in question.
This dismays those who want the Court to act less ecclesiastically, and disregard petty considerations of law and canon when it suits the requirements of the Good and Just, but this is a very dangerous road to travel, as Thomas Moore pointed out in “A Man For All Seasons”:
Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Moore: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Moore: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
There’s a lot of wisdom in that. Those who believe that the Court should reflect popular opinion or bow to Presidential pressure would do well to consider the consequences of such behavior. Oh, and popular opinion? The most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll on the health care legislation showed that 37% opposed it, 22 percent favored it, and 41% didn’t know what to think. Hardly a vox populi endorsement, although our self-appointed voces dei in the media would have us think otherwise. As it stands, Romney promises to repeal the legislation, should the Republicans win control of the White House and the Congress. And, in another twist, the Court also ruled that the states are under no compulsion to accept it, since the federal government is not allowed to withhold Medicaid funding to states that are non-compliant.
As for us, we remain indifferent. In a world where mayors determine the sizes of sodas, we have become numb, and find it hard to consider or respond to the curious interest our government seems to have in our health and even more curious disregard it seems to have acquired for our rights.