Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, is known for clearly enunciating the very basic idea that it is impossible for anything both to be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. He called this "the most certain of all principles ... for if a man were mistaken on this point he would have contrary opinions at the same time."
Without the principle of noncontradiction, there can be no meaningful statement or thought about anything. And last week, on Capitol Hill, we were treated to an example of what happens when someone tries to bend this rule of logic.
Four federal district courts have now ruled on Obamacare’s constitutionality. Their decisions have been split in the sense that two have ruled the law’s requirement that all Americans purchase government-approved health insurance to be unconstitutional, and two have ruled that this is within constitutional limits. But all four courts have agreed that the Obama administration framed its reform efforts in bad faith.
Under Obamacare, if you don’t buy government-approved insurance, you pay a financial penalty to the Internal Revenue Service. In order to sell his plan to the public, President Barack Obama maintained adamantly that this was not a tax increase. After all, Obama had promised, repeatedly, that he would not raise any tax on any family making under $250,000 per year.
But in court, the administration has been arguing the opposite. The plaintiffs in the Obamacare lawsuits have maintained that the federal government lacks the power to compel people to buy health insurance. To rebut this argument, Obama’s lawyers have offered an argument in the alternative: We are not compelling people to buy health insurance, they say. We are exercising the government’s constitutional power to collect taxes.
In other words: Yes, this is a tax increase. The courts have not been buying this line, but that has not stopped the Obama administration from stipulating it over and over again. And this suggests a troubling amount of cognitive dissonance at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
On Jan. 26, White House economics adviser Austan Goolsbee appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee, where he was asked about several of the provisions in Obamacare that raise taxes on everyone, including people who make less than $250,000 a year. It was not one of those hearings where you see fireworks. It was more like watching the Blue Screen of Death pop up on your computer.
Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, asked Goolsbee a series of questions about whether various provisions in Obamacare constituted tax increases. It was painful enough to watch Goolsbee try to explain why it is not a tax increase when the government disallows thousands of dollars in tax deductions for your medical expenses, which Obamacare does. But the worst moment came when Tiberi asked whether the individual mandate — "new tax on individuals who did not purchase government approved health insurance" — was in fact a tax increase.
"I don’t think that’s an accurate way to describe it, no," Goolsbee said.
Tiberi then feigned incredulity: "We see a Department of Justice defense that this bill is constitutional because it’s a tax — the individual mandate is a tax. So on the one side, you say it’s not a tax ... and on the other side, you say it is a tax. So which is it?"
Goolsbee responded by redirecting the question back to the safer topic of health care tax deductions. What else could he do? Goolsbee is a brilliant man, and certainly smart enough to know that one cannot both defend the indefensible and not defend it at the same time.
Columnist David Freddoso is The Washington Examiner’s online opinion editor.