Turns out it can do a good deal. So the chief question is who gets to say what providing for the “general Welfare” means. You thought the general welfare involved maximizing individual liberty and securing a person’s private property? Too bad for you! We, who happen to control Congress, say the “general Welfare” means setting up expensive and ultimately unsustainable government programs that require us to take more and more money from you, the people who actually produce stuff, in the form of “Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises” — even, if you can believe it, in the form of health insurance for your lay-about neighbor down the street.
So this is where we are now. I don’t pretend to know what calculations Chief Justice Roberts made in formulating his surprising decision yesterday. Was he, as some assert, bullied? Doesn’t seem to me that he is a man to be bullied, but who knows? No one in the punditocracy does, that’s for sure. Was he cajoled and ultimately prevailed upon at the last minute to change his vote — if change it he did, as some are suggesting — by the Court’s left-wing in order to save the Court from being seen to “take sides” in an election? Maybe.
But maybe he pondered the case and decided that the issue of ObamaCare was really the province not of the Supreme Court but the voters. Obama and his minions consistently, indeed ostentatiously, insisted that the hilariously named “Affordable Care Act,” aka ObamaCare, was not a tax. When, in 2009, George Stephanopoulos said “[I]t’s still a tax increase,” Obama shot back “No. That’s not true, George.” Google it. The internet is full of transcripts and videos of Obama insisting that, whatever else it may be, the unaffordable “Affordable Care Act” is not a tax: no siree, never was a tax, never will be a tax. In short, it’s not a tax.
Except, of course, that the Supreme yesterday said that it is Constitutional only because it is a tax. In fact, it is the mother, grandmother, and great aunt of all taxes, the biggest, by far, in our country’s history (maybe the world). It’s not just one tax, either, but a veritable 21-tax salute.
So where are we now? The Democrats, who are not suicidal, will not be calling it a tax. (It all depends, don’t you know, on what the meaning of is is.) Mitt Romney, who wants to be president, certainly will be calling it a tax and will remind the middle class that, once this tax comes on-line, they will be a lot, lot poorer, thanks to Mr.-Hope-and-Change-just-count-me-Present-spread-the-wealth-around-Obama.
I like to think that this is one of those “teachable moments” we are supposed to applaud, a moment to revisit the breathtaking, if gradual, accretion of power by the federal government over the last 60 or 70 years. We are always being told by our masters in Washington that thus-and-such might be desirable but can’t be accomplished because it is politically inexpedient — that really reforming Social Security, say, is impossible because the voters wouldn’t stand for it, that any hint of an adumbration of changing Social Security would be political suicide, etc.
Maybe. Or maybe the chief justice just handed us an occasion to dramatize this debate in the biggest possible public forum: the general election for the presidency. I think Andy McCarthy has it exactly right when he observes that our pusillanimity with regard to programs like Social Security is a bi-paritsan liability.
[T]the country — very much including Republican leaders and many conservatives — has bought on to the wayward progressive premise that the General Welfare Clause of the Constitution empowers Congress to spend on anything it wants to spend on as long as their is some fig-leaf that ties the spending to the betterment of society. . . . Republicans are afraid to touch this because, if you follow the logic, you’d have to conclude that Congress has no constitutional authority to set up a Social Security system, a Medicare or Medicaid program, or most of the innumerable Big Government enterprises that Republicans support while, of course, decrying Big Government.
Personally, I’d like to turn the clock back to 1964 — to the early 1930s on Social Security — but people tell me I am being utopian. Think about it, though. Let’s agree with Samuel Johnson that “a decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.” Who says that the other Johnson, Lyndon Baines, was right when he instituted all those obscenely expensive programs and initiatives in order to be seen to “help the poor” — i.e., perpetuating their poverty — while assuring the hegemony of the Democratic Party as the dispenser of all those government goodies?
One pundit said that yesterday’s Supreme Court decision transformed the 2012 election from an ordinary election into a choice among fundamentally different visions. I thought it was pretty clear that that’s what it was all along, but yesterday’s decision certainly underscored the conflict. Here’s how I’d put it: do we want to be free citizens or wards of the state? We’ll see. Maybe John Roberts did the wrong thing yesterday. Or maybe those of us who are partisans of limited government and individual liberty will come to recognize that he just did us a big favor. Time will tell.