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The Mandate Represents What’s Wrong With Democrats

6:00 AM, Jun 27, 2012 • By JAY COST
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Tomorrow, the Supreme Court is expected to hand down its ruling on Obamacare--and, in particular, the individual mandate, which requires individuals to purchase health insurance whether they want it or not.

Obama salutes

Let us hope that the Court invalidates this law.

The individual mandate is the apotheosis of the modern Democratic party’s way of doing business. In particular, it is the quintessential example of how, hiding behind a smokescreen of egalitarian rhetoric, the party has become deeply, perhaps hopelessly, anti-republican, happy to dole out favors to privileged groups while the rest of the country is left with nothing.

First, the individual mandate represents an enormous transfer of wealth, completely independent of income or social status. It transfers resources from the healthy to the sick, from the young to the old, without regard to who has more money to begin with. Democrats typically rail against supposedly regressive GOP tax proposals, but nothing the Republicans have ever cooked up compares to the individual mandate. While we’re on the subject of Democratic regressiveness, LBJ’s Medicare is a similarly regressive form of taxation, and ditto Social Security, ever since Johnson turned it into a pay-as-you-go system. Yet watch Democrats howl with outrage whenever the GOP dares suggest reforms that would alter this socially unjust status quo.

Second, the mandate itself is the method by which the Democrats have delivered literally billions of dollars worth of patronage to the key interests groups that lined up with them during the health care debate. The party sought to apply new layers of regulations upon doctors, nurses, hospitals, retirement care facilities, etc., and they rightfully feared a rebuke from these key “stakeholders,” as the Obama White House called them. What better way to buy their silence than to require 30 million Americans become their customers, whether they want to or not! All it took was a flip-flop on the part of the president – who conveniently disavowed his campaign opposition to a mandate – and suddenly all those opponents turned in to lusty supporters, eager to get their hands on all that new revenue.

But what about the “public option”? The inclusion of a public option would have mitigated the perniciousness of the mandate – for then, at least, the government would not be requiring individuals to contract with private, for-profit entities as a condition of their citizenship. Liberal Democrats, naturally, blamed Republican perfidy for the death of the public option – but it never stood a real chance, anyway. The White House hinted early in the health care process that there were many ways to get to universal coverage, and never once suggested that the exclusion of a public option would be a deal-breaker. And that was because none of those stakeholders whom the mandate bought off wanted to compete with the government! And what would be the point of buying them off with a mandate while including a public option? So, in reality, the “will they or won’t they” drama over the public option in the fall of 2009 was mere kabuki theater: the insurers, the drug makers, the doctors, hospitals, nurses, and so on would go ballistic. It was never going to make the final cut.

Let’s put all this in historical context. The Democratic party is the oldest existing political party in the entire world, and it was founded as a people’s party. Andrew Jackson’s veto message of a bill to recharter the Bank of the United States stands to this day as a kind of mission statement for the modern party, and it is worth quoting at length (emphasis mine):

It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society--the farmers, mechanics, and laborers--who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. 

The individual mandate is an overwhelmingly unpopular item that requires a patently unjust transfer of wealth for the purpose of paying off the interest groups that have the biggest financial stake in health care. Considered next to Jackson’s veto message: It is a signal that the Democratic party has become the opposite of what its founders intended to be. The individual mandate is a testimony to the broken nature of the modern party. It is a symbol that, despite their egalitarian rhetoric, contemporary Democrats are ready, willing, and able to bend the policy needle toward the interests of “the rich… and the potent,” at the expense of the “farmers, mechanics, and laborers.”

Let us hope that the Supreme Court has the good sense to do away with this awful innovation.

Despite what liberals may say, the individual mandate represents a qualitative expansion in the powers of the federal government, the likes of which we have not seen since the 1930s. We can be confident that the Democratic party as it is currently constituted lacks the ability to use this new power in a socially responsible way.

If the Court allows Washington to mandate commerce in order to regulate it, this will open new, terrible avenues for the Democrats to pay off their client groups, at the expense of the public good. Today it is a mandate to buy a policy from Aetna; but who knows what tomorrow may bring? Clever Democrats could surely find some “compelling” reason for private parties to contract with the SEIU, AFSCME, the UAW, the Sierra Club, NOW, or any of the wide assortment of narrow interests that depend on the Democratic party for their patronage.

Jay Cost is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, available now wherever books are sold.

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