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Last Thursday, President Obama walked before the cameras and said, “Good afternoon. Earlier today, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act— the name of the health care reform we passed two years ago. In doing so, they’ve reaffirmed a fundamental principle that here in America — in the wealthiest nation on earth — no illness or accident should lead to any family’s financial ruin.”
A bit later, Obama added, “Today, the Supreme Court also upheld the principle that people who can afford health insurance should take the responsibility to buy health insurance.”
The casual listener might take Obama to be saying that the Supreme Court agrees with him and that the ruling was a ringing endorsement of what Obama takes to be the core “principles” of ObamaCare.
But that’s not the case, at all.
The dissenting opinion written by four justices found the whole thing to be an affront to the Constitution. And the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, held that the law is constitutional for reasons the president — a famous teacher of the Constitution — passionately rejected.
“You reject that it’s a tax increase?” George Stephanopoulos asked the president in a now legendary interview in 2009. “I absolutely reject that notion,” replied Obama.
In Roberts’ words
Obama might respond that regardless of how they got there, the justices did affirm the principles of ObamaCare. Nope. “We do not consider whether the act embodies sound policies,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority. “That judgment is entrusted to the nation’s elected leaders.” And again, Roberts writes of ObamaCare: “It is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”
This was Justice Roberts’ diplomatic way of paraphrasing Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous defense of judicial restraint: “If my fellow citizens want to go to hell, I will help them. It’s my job.”
No doubt, Obama is delighted with the court’s decision. The court might have repudiated the president’s own opinions, but as a political matter there’s little doubt Obama welcomes such repudiation.
Still, it’s telling that Obama’s fraudulent claim that the Supreme Court agrees with him is not so unusual. The president has a well-known habit of insisting that not only is he right, but also that all smart people agree with him.
For instance, in a 2009 discussion of the economic stimulus, Obama told The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt, “Whatever arguments may be made by the critics at this point, there was no economist out there who thought we didn’t need to do (it).” Or, in a speech about energy last March: “What I just said about energy, by the way, is not disputed by any energy expert. Everybody agrees with this.”
Let the record show that there are, in fact, economists and energy experts who disagree with Barack Obama. Really.
Beyond what this tendency says about the president’s own character, it certainly reveals the arrogance of liberalism itself. There is something about the nature of liberalism that causes its adherents to argue as if it is the one true faith. But rather than speak the language of faith, they instead speak the vocabulary of expertise. They claim “sound science” and the support of “all experts” as if their opponents are devoid of facts and reason.
Contempt for democracy
There’s a troubling contempt for democracy in this approach to politics because it assumes that your opponents have nothing of substance to contribute to the discussion. Moreover, this assumption inexorably leads liberals to think that if we could just let the experts run things, then everything would be great.
This was the faith of the original progressives who pushed, in the words of legendary news commentator Walter Lippmann, the “mastery” of scientific governance over the “drift” of messy markets and disorganized democracy. The New Deal and the Great Society were grounded in the same vision of infinitely capable technocrats.
Even John F. Kennedy argued that the problems facing the country “deal with questions which are now beyond the comprehension of most men” and should therefore be left to the experts to settle without subjecting them to divisive democratic debate.
Just last year, Peter Orszag, former Obama Office of Management and Budget director, was making the same argument. “We need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions,” Orszag argued, “by making them a bit less democratic.” The answer to our problems, Orszag proclaimed: “Automatic policies and depoliticized commissions.”
It’s no wonder that this mindset led to the creation of ObamaCare. Indeed, this is the real principle at the core of the act: the idea that if we can just give the experts, the commissions, the panels and boards enough power to do “what all experts” believe, then everything will be great, particularly if we can force citizens and businesses alike to heel.
In fairness, the court didn’t affirm that principle either, but it did say that if the voters want to go to that corner of hell, we can.
Jonah Goldberg, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.
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