“I don’t know if it will be politically smart, but I’d love to see it, is first bill on the table with the new Republican House [and] new Republican Senate: every citizen over the age of 18 must purchase a gun or pay a tax… It’s constitutional, right?”
“[The above is] a way of drawing out the logic of ObamaCare to its absurd conclusion using an example that the left would hate….if requiring the purchase of a product or service, penalized by a tax if you don’t, is legal and constitutional, then I guess we could do the same with guns. Or broccoli.”-The Heathen Republican, 9-Jul-12
This is a fairly common conservative argument at the moment. Even some of the Supreme Court Justices brought it up. The argument appears to be:
Premise 1: The Obamacare mandate has been upheld as constitutional.
Premise 2: Any mandate that is sufficiently similar to the Obamacare mandate must also be constitutional.
Premise 3: A mandate that requires the purchase of a gun or broccoli is sufficiently similar to the Obamacare mandate.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, mandating the purchase of a gun or broccoli is constitutional.
Premise 4: Mandating the purchase of a gun or broccoli is bad.
Conclusion 2: Therefore, the Obamacare mandate is or should be unconstitutional.
Some people might object to premise 3. In fact, in The Heathen Republican’s own thread, one commenter writes:
“I’m not a fan of this analogy because the problem isn’t that rising gun prices is causing fewer people to have access to quality healthcare. Which is an important issue because it affects the economy, as well as people’s ability to get medical treatment.”
However, I am going to object to a different part of the argument: the movement from premise 4 to conclusion 2.
My rebuttal is simple: ”bad” and “unconstitutional” are not synonymous. We can, after all, have a bad law that is constitutional or a good law that is unconstitutional. The concepts are separate and unrelated. Therefore, conclusion 2 does not follow from the argument’s premises.
Perhaps The Heathen Republican had a different argument in mind. Let us re-write premise 4 and conclusion 2:
Premise 4: Liberals do not want the government to mandate the purchase of broccoli or guns.
Conclusion 2: Therefore, liberals are inconsistent if they support the constitutionality of the Obamacare mandate.
The same objection stands: whether or not the Obamacare mandate is constitutional is unrelated to the questions of what liberals want and whether or not they believe that all mandates are good.
But there is one other possibility. Let us again re-write premise 4 and conclusion 2:
Premise 4: Liberals call the Obamacare mandate is constitutional, but would call a broccoli or gun mandate unconstitutional.
Conclusion 2: Liberals are inconsistent.
This is a valid argument, though it does depend on the truth of premises 3 and 4, which are disputable. If premise 4 is true and liberals cannot argue that premise 3 is false, then they must accept the constitutionality of a broccoli or gun mandate or deny the constitutionality of the Obamacare mandate, else they are inconsistent.
In any case, I am not and should not be concerned that conservatives will soon implement a gun mandate. They will surely not sacrifice their “small government” principles, which can persist despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, in order to make a political point. I am also not concerned about the broccoli mandate because I have confidence that the public will not elect people who would support such a law.
We would all do well to remember:
1.) A law should be judged on its own merits–not those of other, even non-existent laws. Just as the government should not lose the power to tax simply because we can imagine it taxing everyone at 100% of his income, it should not lose the ability to mandate the purchase of health care simply because we can imagine it mandating the purchase of other products.
2.) The Constitution of the United States does not guarantee good laws to anyone. It is just a document with no power on its own. If each branch of the government ignores it, then it is ignored. If each branch of the government interprets it one way, then it is interpreted that way. There is no mystical force to prevent these results.
3.) It is the task of the public to keep the government in line. We elect those who make bad laws as surely as we elect those who make good laws–and we have the power (in theory, which is all that can be guaranteed) to replace them if we are displeased. Now that the Obamacare mandate has been deemed constitutional, the public simply has to make sure that the precedent is not abused in the future. If the public believes even now that the Obamacare mandate is a terrible abuse, then it must make sure to support those who would dismantle or at least weaken it. If the public does nothing, then it can expect nothing in exchange.