“That liberalism may be a tendency toward something very different from itself, is a possibility in its nature. For it is something which tends to release energy rather than accumulate it, to relax, rather than to fortify. It is a movement not so much defined by its end, as by its starting point; away from, rather than towards, something definite.
Our point of departure is more real to us than our destination; and the destination is likely to present a very different picture when arrived at, from the vaguer image formed in imagination. By destroying traditional social habits of the people, by dissolving their natural collective consciousness into individual constituents, by licensing the opinions of the most foolish, by substituting instruction for education, by encouraging cleverness rather than wisdom, the upstart rather than the qualified, by fostering a notion of getting on to which the alternative is a hopeless apathy, Liberalism can prepare the way for that which is its own negation: the artificial, mechanized or brutalized control which is a desperate remedy for its chaos.”
Now this from Adams:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
These two thoughts seem especially relevant as the SCOTUS discusses the constitutionality of the individual mandate in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. My own feelings on the ACA are similar to those of Andrew Sullivan who wrote:
I have no expertise in constitutional law so cannot say either way on the ACA’s constitutionality. But as a principle, having the federal government forcing me to buy something I might not want does rub me the wrong way. But since there are clear collective consequences of my refusal to buy insurance and yet expect adequate treatment if I were to get squished on my bike by a truck, I can see the need for mandatory insurance, as with cars. This is about ending free-riders and ensuring personal responsibility – which is why the individual mandate was once regarded as a clearly conservative proposal.
But my main reason for supporting the ACA is pretty simple. The private sector has been given a chance to show it can deliver healthcare efficiently – and it has failed to such a spectacular extent that government has little choice but to try and prevent this sector bleeding the rest of the economy dry. Compared with more collective, socialized systems, the cost of the US system to achieve the same results is gob-smacking. Hence the cost-control reforms. The private sector, moreover, simply won’t work for someone like me with a chronic condition, who couldn’t get a personal private insurance policy if I tried.
That said, supposing the SCOTUS does strike down the mandate as unconstitutional it strikes me that Eliot and Adams may well have been vindicated: Our healthcare system in the nation is utterly broken. The quality of care is, on average, well below what it should be for a nation as wealthy as our own. The costs are out of control. Etc. etc. So we need to fix it. The likelihood of a single payer model ever working, or even being passed, in the USA are remote, so we have to find a compromise that enables health care to still function in a free market context. Introduce Obamacare. But without the mandate, all Obamacare will accomplish is introducing tons of new extremely high cost claimants to our nation’s insurance providers, hence driving up costs for everyone else. The only way Obamacare works is with the individual mandate. (Hence my reluctant support of it.)
And here’s the catch: Our constitution doesn’t allow the provision necessary to make caring for our nation’s health possible. Put another way, our constitution, just as Eliot predicted, has enabled us to create a world unable to be adequately governed by the constitution. Obviously that’s a highly-contentious claim, but if the SCOTUS does strike down the mandate, then it’s not an unreasonable one. If the constitution doesn’t even allow for an individual mandate, then our healthcare reform has to become an even more extreme form of free market reform than it already was. But if the recession taught us anything, surely it’s that when the market is left to itself, major problems will soon arise.
If this imagined scenario does become the reality, it suggests there’s a far deeper problem facing our country, one that cannot be adequately addressed by politicians.