Less than a year ago, voters went to the polls in Ohio and resoundingly rejected Obamacare’s individual mandate. Actually, that’s an understatement. Voters in all 88 counties of Ohio rejected it, and in all but seven of those counties they did so by a margin of at least 20 percentage points. Even in Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located and where Barack Obama beat John McCain by a margin of better than two-to-one (68 to 30 percent), voters not only rejected Obamacare’s individual mandate but did so by a margin of 16 points (58 to 42 percent).
To be sure, Ohioans don’t have the power to cancel out Obamacare’s individual mandate any more than the residents of any other single state do (unless, of course, Ohio becomes the deciding state in the presidential election). If Obamacare isn’t repealed, then its individual mandate would be imposed on Americans in every state. The Ohio vote, therefore, was essentially symbolic, but what it demonstrates is this: The individual mandate is likely the most unpopular part of President Obama’s horribly unpopular centerpiece legislation. As such, it’s perhaps his greatest political vulnerability.
This past summer, the Supreme Court rejected the Obama administration’s argument that Congress had the authority to impose the individual mandate under its power to regulate interstate commerce. Having rejected the administration’s argument, the only reason the Court didn’t strike down the mandate as unconstitutional was because Chief Justice John Roberts (and the four Obama or Clinton appointees) thought it could be shoehorned into being called a tax — albeit a tax of an unprecedented nature — and upheld on that basis.
The only good thing about the Court’s allowing the mandate to survive was that it left its fate up to the American people. As Roberts somewhat indelicately put it in his opinion, “[P]olicy judgments…are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them.” Roberts also explicitly reminded everyone that, when it comes to the “wisdom” of Obamacare, “that judgment is reserved to the people.”
A Newsweek/Daily Beast poll of likely voters taken shortly after the opinion was released indicated that the Court’s ruling had shifted support to Mitt Romney. By a margin of 21 points (32 to 11 percent), voters said they were more, rather than less, apt to vote for Romney in the wake of the ruling. And by a margin of 15 points (29 to 14 percent), voters said they were less, rather than more, apt to vote for Obama.
Yet ever since then, the Romney campaign and pretty much the entire Republican party has refused to press this exceptional political vulnerability of Obama’s. Paul Ryan unleashed several powerful attacks last night against Obamacare, principally its $716 billion raid of Medicare; its establishment of the grisly Independent Payment Advisory Board, which would further reduce seniors’ access to care; and its assault on religious freedom. Still, something seemed to be missing from the indictment. Perhaps that’s because, as in the presidential debate, voters’ number-one objection to Obamacare wasn’t mentioned.
Why have Americans so recoiled against the individual mandate, opposing it more strongly than any other single part of Obamacare? Perhaps it’s because the mandate is the piece of Obamacare that best crystalizes its extraordinary affront to liberty — and hence to our founding ideals. As Ryan emphatically put it in this outstanding short speech on the day of the Obamacare vote, “Our Founders got it right….[Obamacare] tramples upon the principles that have made America so exceptional….This is not who we are.”
Yet the GOP ticket and the Republican party have now essentially stopped talking about the part of Obamacare that Americans — and independent voters — like least. Why? It seems Obama has successfully bluffed them into silence: If you bring up the mandate, he suggests, I’ll remind people that Romney imposed an individual mandate in Massachusetts, and I'll claim I got the idea from him.
Romney and the GOP should call Obama’s bluff — because, in truth, Obama is holding a weak hand. Yes, Romney imposed a mandate in his state. But that, as well as where Obama claims he got his idea from, is largely beside the point — as it doesn’t change two key things.
First, it doesn’t change the fact that the two presidential candidates are offering the American people a binary choice on this issue going forward. Obama wants to keep the mandate that Ohio voters in all 88 counties want to scrap; Romney wants to repeal it (along with the rest of Obamacare). The choice could hardly be clearer.
Second, it doesn’t change the fact that, unless Obamacare is repealed, this will mark the first time in all of American history that the federal government will compel private American citizens to buy a product or service of the federal government’s choosing. State governments often require state residents to buy things — car insurance, for example. But for the federal government to do so is to break new ground.
In this case, the mandated product or service would be health insurance that, among many other requirements (most of which would be given shape by the subsequent decrees of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius) must offer “free” (that is, paid for collectively) birth-control pills, sterilization, and coverage of the abortion drug ella. In the future, the mandated product or service could be GM-made “green cars,” a certain quota of “healthy” food selected by a panel of bureaucratic experts or the first lady, or some product that just happens to be manufactured in Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district or by a major Obama donor.
If this sounds paranoid, remember that Obama and his Democratic cohorts have already decreed that the free men and women of America must buy health insurance that many of them don’t want, that many of them find morally objectionable, and that most of them seem to regard as an unacceptable violation both of their liberty and of their right to keep the fruits of their own labor.
One additional point is worth mentioning. It’s Obama, not Romney, who’s most vulnerable to the charge of inconsistency on this issue. Romney supports a mandate for Massachusetts (perhaps the most liberal state in America) while opposing a federal mandate that would apply to every state, regardless of the profound differences in those states’ wants or desires. That’s certainly a tenable position. Candidate Obama repeatedly opposed a federal mandate; President Obama then imposed one from coast to coast. That’s a flip-flop.
The good news is that there are still three-and-a-half weeks remaining until Election Day. That’s plenty of time for the Romney camp, and the GOP as a whole, to remind voters in Ohio and elsewhere that one of the decisions they’ll be making when they pull the lever on November 6 is whether they want to be compelled to buy health insurance of the federal government’s choosing — or not.