Three silver linings in the Obamacare ruling

T. Elliot Gaiser Host, CPR Podcasts
Font Size:

As a young American, I felt deflated yesterday as my Twitter feed exploded with 140-character bursts of rejoicing liberals and mourning conservatives. Obamacare stands.

Eventually, important facts cut through the cries of victory and treason. I’m not pretending that I’m glad the court did not strike down the law. I wish it did. But conservatives ought to note three benefits of the ruling.

First, the court gutted the law’s enforcement mechanism by overruling its Medicaid funding provision. Originally, the federal government could pull Medicaid funding from state programs if states refused to obey its dictates. The court annihilated this provision, potentially allowing states like Wisconsin, Texas and my own state, Ohio, to essentially ignore the law penalty free. So much for nationalism. Cheers for federalism.

Second, the court restricted the Commerce Clause to pre-New Deal thinking. For decades, the federal government has been able to hide behind “regulating commerce” as it taxes and spends and mandates. Now there is no doubt: Congress cannot mandate the purchase of a product under the Commerce Clause. The ruling reasserts that Congress’s fundamental power over our lives comes from its power to tax, which is the power to destroy. It reveals the nature of government as intrinsically coercive. The government can only operate by taking from you through raw taxation, not sanitized “penalties.”

Third, the court upheld constitutional process. Obamacare is bad law, but it was adopted by a narrow majority of our elected representatives. Because there is a way for this law to be constitutional, albeit through defining it as politically repugnant taxation, the court decided to conserve its power to overturn the legislative branch. This bolsters the credibility of the court by preventing a partisan, 5-4 decision where five Republican-nominated justices beat down four Democrat-nominated justices. More importantly, it could prove to be a major long-term victory for constitutionalism.

Here’s why. Liberals believe in taking shortcuts to obtain their desired results, and they justify any means to their “compassionate,” heart-felt ends. Conservatives believe in standing by time-tested processes, because shortcuts often have unintended consequences — consequences like the precedent set by decades of liberal-dominated courts striking down laws passed by elected representatives, reducing the judiciary to partisanship through narrow rulings on abortion, gun control, school prayer and property rights.

I would urge my fellow conservatives to avoid the progressive game of seeking shortcuts to our ends. I would argue the court would have been following constitutional process by overturning the law, but relying on that easy path is not a long-term solution. Obamacare is the fruit, not the root, of America’s growing culture of entitlement — a culture that elected Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

There’s no doubt this law has appalling consequences for my generation. It will force young people to buy health insurance just as we get on our feet and begin paying down college debt, or face taxation. Even the provision that allows us to stay on our parents’ health care until age 26 — a provision the president touts as a major selling point — will only deepen the European-style dependence increasingly rampant among my peers.

The Supreme Court threw the issue back to the ultimate court: the court of public opinion. In doing so, it reset the playing field. The ruling gives conservatives a shot at lasting change by forever establishing Obamacare as a regressive tax hike that will be felt most by young people like me, just as we enter Obama’s floundering job market. This ruling is a wake-up call to my generation. And that in itself is good news for conservatives.

T. Elliot Gaiser is a conservative blogger and the host of CPR Podcasts. Follow him on Twitter (@elliotgaiser).