It is encouraging news that the Supreme Court has decided to consider the constitutionality of key provisions in Obamacare. By the end of next summer we will probably know whether the federal government can require individuals to buy health insurance and if it can force states to comply with a newly expanded Medicaid program.
Professor Walter Russell Mead of Bard College blogged that in the debates to ratify the Constitution, it was considered a weakness “that important laws could be passed and would operate for some time before people knew whether they were legal.”
Mead pointed out that there are smarter ways that requiring purchase of insurance could be written by Obamacare drafters to have made it less vulnerable to a constitutional challenge.
But is that really the point?
Is it not sad that the most fundamental aspects of our ability to live as a free people boil down these days to how nine Supreme Court justices choose to read and interpret a word or phrase?
Is it not sad that many basic violations of individual liberty do not seem intuitively obvious to so many citizens and to members of Congress? Or perhaps even sadder, that liberty may no longer be the objective?
It so happens that this month is the 148th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered on Nov. 19, 1863.
Lincoln opened the address with famous words: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty.” His point of reference defining the vision of the nation was 1776 — the Declaration of Independence.
One hundred years after the Gettysburg address, Martin Luther King Jr. stood in front of Lincoln’s statue and gave his most famous speech, and the words he chose to quote also were those of the Declaration, about the “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
To suggest that a nation “conceived in liberty” can tolerate a handful of Washington bureaucrats telling several hundred million citizens what health insurance is and forcing them to buy it seems beyond absurd.
Perhaps the ongoing saga of American history is about the struggle to understand and apply our operating manual — our Constitution — in a manner consistent with the principles of our nation’s founding.
We, of course, started off in the wrong direction by rationalizing slavery into the Constitution. The evidence today suggests we still have a long way to go to align with those founding principles of the Declaration of Independence. A good start would be to think more about their relevance.
That might help us realize our financial crisis was not caused by too much freedom — but instead by too much government. Now we are tying up our whole financial services sector with new regulations while the government-backed agencies complicit in the debacle — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — remain standing unscathed, still sucking up billions in taxpayer funds and paying their executives million-dollar bonuses.
And how about a government that wastes hundreds of millions of taxpayer funds in failed clean energy ventures while rejecting a pipeline project that would deliver millions of tons of fuel and create tens of thousands of jobs — and their only request from the federal government is a permit?
Have we forgotten what being American means, or do we no longer care?
Star Parker is a Scripps Howard News Service columnist and president of CURE, the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education.