As my Philadelphia Phillies idled through a two-hour rain delay Thursday night, I curled up with some light reading: a Texas Review of Law & Politics article by the legal team, led by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, that's challenging the new healthcare individual mandate in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
It's fascinating stuff.
Cuccinelli and co. follow a long trail from the 18th century British jurist William Blackstone to the Dred Scott case to the New Deal to the present day. The conservative team, at first, makes a tight, prudential case against the Obamacare mandate that I, in my nonprofessional capacity, happen to favor. [See photos of healthcare reform protests.]
In their words:
No existing case needs to be overruled and no existing doctrine needs to be curtailed or expanded for Virginia to prevail on the merits. Nor does Virginia remotely suggest that the United States lacks the power to erect a system of national healthcare. Virginia expressly pled that Congress has the authority to act under the taxing and spending powers as it did with respect to Social Security and Medicare, but that Congress in this instance lacked the political capital and will to do so. No challenge has been mounted by Virginia to the vast sweep and scope of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Instead, only the mandate and penalty were challenged because the claimed power is tantamount to a national police power inasmuch as it lacks principled limits.
In plainer, get-to-the-point English: We grant you the social safety net established under the "Roosevelt Settlement." We recognize Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce. We even grant that this power could conceivably deliver universal healthcare. But for Pete's sake, don't try to include "inactivity"—that is, not buying a health insurance plan on the private market—under its purview.
Because, once you regulate the act of doing nothing, what's left to regulate?
Thus, does the state's power to tax and police become theoretically unlimited?
But, later in the body of the piece, Team Cuccinelli begins to play other, more presently familiar cards. Glenn Beck fans will recognize the faces in the rogue's gallery: Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, progressive philosopher John Dewey, and others who, this argument goes, created the post-New Deal legal and philosophical edifice. [Check out our editorial cartoons on healthcare.]
Wouldn't you know it, this welfare-state stuff constitutes a violation of natural law—which, ipso facto, means economic laissez-faire—and a lurch into moral chaos. Echoing the newly popular Hayek, Cuccinelli's article asserts the primacy of economic rights while characterizing as relativistic the not-exclusively-liberal jurisprudential argument that personhood and dignity precede the marketplace. (Last I checked, I've never seen an unborn baby sign a contract.)
Come conclusion time, the piece sounds eerily like it's not merely advocating the curtailment of an otherwise defensible attempt to advance the national interest, but rather like a full-throated libertarian manifesto:
The Progressive Meliorists had argued that they should be accorded constitutional space in which to make a social experiment, agreeing in turn to be judged by the results. The New Dealers carried the experiment forward. Seventy years later, results are in suggesting that the experiment is living beyond its means. The statist heirs to the experiment say that it cannot and must not be curtailed, so now they claim this new power.
Social Security and Medicare—an experiment! Just a temporary, 70-year blip on the radar!
So, in 46 pages, we proceed from modest and reasonable to deeply crazy. [See our slideshow: 10 Winners in the Healthcare Debate.]
It behooves us to ask, what's Cuccinelli's endgame?
I think we've seen this movie before.
- See a slide show of 10 things that are (and aren’t) in the healthcare bill.
- See the month’s best political cartoons.
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