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Could the New Obamacare Mandate Reinvigorate the Tea Party?

3:35 PM, Feb 12, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Republicans have been critical of the Obama administration's "preventive care" regulation, both before and after its (meaningless) modification Friday. But have our elected leaders and our candidates made the fundamental point? This regulation isn't some kind of weird bug in the software of Obamacare. It's not a clumsy overreach by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius or even by President Obama himself. The regulation isn't a bug or an overreach at all. It's a feature. It's a feature that follows directly from the very structure, from the heart, of Obamacare.

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As President Obama said Friday, announcing his revision of the rule promulgated three weeks ago, "As part of the health care reform law that I signed last year, all insurance plans are required to cover preventive care at no cost." That's the key. Obamacare requires that everyone buy insurance and that insurance plans be set up in accord with various requirements imposed by the federal government. The combination of individual mandate to purchase and federal requirement to cover is what makes Obamacare such an assault on our freedom. The HHS regulation is, in this respect, true to the spirit of the law. 

President Obama, trying to defuse the controversy, also said Friday, "We live in a pluralistic society where we're not going to agree on every single issue, or share every belief." But if government is involved in everything in our pluralistic society, our disagreements become politicized, and our beliefs are forced to clash. The fundamental fact about America isn't that we live in a pluralistic society. It is--or it should be--that we live in a free society. In a free society, we don't need to agree on every issue, or share every belief--we often don't even need to worry about our failure to agree. Freedom leads to a healthy pluralism. A politics shaped by Obamacare and its ilk leads to an unhealthy corporatist pluralism. The superior alternative is a politics shaped by the Constitution, which seeks to secure the blessings of liberty, not the blessings of "free" preventive care, to ourselves and our posterity. 

Our political leaders haven't yet risen to the occasion presented by this moment. But here the people rule. Here there are not just official Democratic and Republican parties, but there are informal, bottom-up, popular parties. Such as the Tea Party. Yes, the Tea Party has been about spending and debt, about solvency and prosperity. But at its core, the spirit of the Tea Party has always been a reawakening to the threats today's big-government liberalism poses to our constitution of liberty. If our leaders can't quite grasp this, perhaps Tea Party activists can instruct them that the problem with big-government liberalism is not just that it spends our money, or even that it spends more money than we have; it's that it takes away our freedom.

The Tea Party spirit has subsided a bit in the past year, a victim of its own success in 2010 and of uninspiring Congressional leadership and a problematic presidential field in 2011. Could a once-obscure HHS regulation be the spark that leads to a Tea Party revival in 2012, one that redefines the political landscape and reinvigorates the conservative cause?

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