Broccoli's Back in Political Discourse

Justice Antonin Scalia used the maligned vegetable as an example today during Supreme Court arguments.

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Pity the poor broccoli, the much-maligned vegetable that was exploited again today to make a political point.

The highly nutritious but widely disliked food was at the center of Justice Antonin Scalia's questioning as the Supreme Court considered whether the Affordable Care Act--also known as Obamacare--could legally force people to buy health insurance.

[Check out a collection of political cartoons on healthcare.]

Scalia asked Obama administration lawyer Donald Verrilli why the government can't also make people buy vegetables. Scalia asked: "Could you define the market--everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food; therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli?"

Scalia and Verrilli jousted over the issue, but the larger point was clear: Broccoli was back at the center of political discourse as the symbol of something that's good for you but that often has to be force fed.

[U.S. News Debate Club: Should the Supreme Court Overturn Obama's Healthcare Law?]

It reminded me of the famous broccoli story associated with President George H. W. Bush. I am very familiar with it because I broke the story in U.S. News that Bush had banned broccoli from Air Force One. He had hated the vegetable since childhood, when his mother made him eat it. But when he became president, he declared that he wasn't going to take it anymore, so he banned it from his plane.

Some of Bush's admirers thought the episode made him look decisive. Others said it showed he had a sense of humor. Still others thought he was focusing too much on trivia.

But broccoli was the issue then, as it was today. It will ever be thus.

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