Healthcare and Tyranny
The editors of Commonweal see nothing tyrannical about the Affordable Care Act’s mandate, which doesn’t surprise me, but I was taken aback by their concluding sentences:
There’s nothing tyrannical about it, and even if there were, voters wouldn’t need the Supreme Court to provide a cure. The Constitution itself insures an adequate remedy for tyranny. It’s called the ballot box.
Where to begin? The ballot box alone is no adequate remedy for tyranny, which is why the Constitution also separates the powers of government and establishes a system of checks and balances between them. The Supreme Court is acting in accordance with its constitutional role by examining the constitutionality of the mandate. In short, it’s doing its job. And a good thing too. The purpose of a constitution is to define the powers of government; if you don’t hold to it, then you have no basis for limiting what government can and cannot do. You throw out checks and balances.
For the record: I’ve no moral objection to the mandate; in fact, I’m supportive of it for lack of feasible alternatives, but the constitutionality of it is hardly crystal clear. I’m not sure if the mandate is constitutional or not, but if it isn’t, then we shouldn’t have it even if it is morally-speaking a good thing to do. There’s no sense in embracing tyranny so that we can welcome justice.
When we’re dealing with government power, it’s not enough to think morally about what should be done; to be prudent, we also have to consider whether the government has the authority under the law to do what should be done and, if it doesn’t, what needs to happen so that the government can do the right thing and have the authority to do the right thing.