For some reason, Mike Tomasky seems to be writing some very foolish pieces of late. His latest one, entitled “Behind Court Challenge to Health Care Lies the Right’s ‘Freedom Fetish’” is a case in point. According to Tomasky, all concerns about the nature of big government encroachment under the direction of Obama are misplaced, to wit:
I defy anyone to name for me a specific and precise freedom that Obama has taken away from the American people. You can’t. When they’re not just invented out of whole cloth by multi-millionaire propagandists, all such laments are based on ignorance about what freedom actually means and an equal ignorance about how our system of government works.
Well, I can name two – the freedom not to subsidize birth control if you have a moral objection and the freedom not to be forced to sign up for healthcare. Should the Supreme Court uphold Obamacare under the Commerce Clause, that denial of freedom will extend not just to healthcare, but to many, many other areas of economic freedom, as well.
On the subject of contraception, Tomasky writes:
But there is no freedom issue here. Neither is there a freedom issue with regard to the Catholic Church and the recent controversy over contraception. First of all, no church has to change a single thing about the way it operates. And Catholic hospitals will not, under the new rule, have to provide contraceptive coverage—they will just be required, if they refuse to provide such coverage, to tell enrollees how they can acquire it through other means. In fact, now that I think about it, the only people who can make any claims that their freedoms are being impinged by the Obama administration are the non-Catholic women hired by Catholic hospitals who might now have trouble getting free contraceptive coverage.
Tomasky is simply wrong on the first point. Churches are being required to change the way they operate. If they provide healthcare, they must provide contraception. If they opt not to provide it, then the health insurance company they use must do so at no cost. Of course, since contraception isn’t free, where does Tomasky think the money is going to come from to pay for it? The answer is an overall increase in fees. Furthermore, some religious institutions self insure, which means that even were the exemption to work in third party insurance cases, it doesn’t work for those institutions.
The contraception issue, while important, is small potatoes compared to Obamacare. On this subject, Tomasky really demonstrates a lack of understanding about the Founding Fathers, the Constitution and principles of a limited federal government. Here is what he has to say:
The silliness of the freedom argument against Obama really comes down to this: The ACA was a law, made within our political processes, according to the rules and norms of same. Obama isn’t the king. He didn’t decree this law. Congress negotiated it and passed it. If people don’t want such laws, they need to elect Congresspeople that won’t make them. This, incidentally, is the answer to an oft-bruited rhetorical question, “What’s to prevent the government from making a law requiring that everyone eat broccoli?” One answer is: nothing, at least in theory. If a future Congress wants to make such a law, it can do so and see what happens in the courts.
To begin with, the argument that Obama has not taken away freedoms because he didn’t simply decree Obamacare but because it passed as a law is obtuse. Obama is credited with the results of Obamacare because he was the driving force behind it. Of course other people are responsible as well, including every member of Congress that voted for it and the organizations that pushed for it. However, there are degrees of influence and Obama is clearly the most influential person involved in the matter. I can only imagine what Tomasky must have written when George W. Bush’s tax cuts were passed – ‘he didn’t decree this law; he’s not really responsible.’
The second part of Tomasky’s analysis is even worse. It shows a complete and utter lack of understanding that the Constitution is a limiting document meant to check federal power. One of the most basic tenants of that check on powers is that the federal government does not have a general police power, only states do. Thus, it is beyond the power of the federal government to pass a law requiring eating broccoli, even if every single senator and congressman thinks it is a good idea. That is the whole point of the Constitution – to protect certain rights from being trampled merely because a majority of people think they are outdated or irrelevant. The answer is most certainly not “nothing.”
Finally, Tomasky’s last thought, Congress can do whatever it wants and then “see what happens in the courts” is an appalling notion. Congressmen and the President take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. With that oath comes the responsibility to pass only laws which a person believes are Constitutional. If a congressman or the President has before him a law which he believes is in the best interest of the country, politically, but he knows it runs counter to the Constitution, he has a duty not to vote for it. The courts are a check on congressional and executive power, but congress and the President are not children, aiming to get away with however much they can before a parent stops them. In Tomasky’s world. however, it would seem that the oath of office is merely a ceremonial nod to antiquated ideas.
Tomasky concludes his editorial with the following:
The classic definition of freedom, or liberty, is still John Stuart Mill’s. His sentence that goes, “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign,” can be quoted out of context to imply that a person shouldn’t have to buy health insurance. But context shows that a few sentences earlier, Mill discussed the harm principle. A person can act with complete freedom so long as his actions don’t harm others. Well, pal, if you’re healthy and 35 and you don’t buy insurance and you get hit by a bus and you need $10,000 in medical care and you can’t and don’t pay for it, that harms me, because I’m an insured taxpayer and I’m helping to pick up your tab. That is freedom: not just the right to be left alone, but also the obligation to take responsibility for the consequences of one’s own actions on the freedom of other members of society. By that definition, the ACA is enhancing freedom, and personal responsibility—which is why conservatives were for the mandate in the first place.
I guess Regan’s old line about the difference between a Marxist and capitalist being that a Marxist has read Marx and a capitalist understands Marx can now be updated to include John Stuart Mill. While Tomasky can clearly read, he lacks the faculty to understand, or chooses not to. Freedom and liberty do indeed come with the obligation not to do harm. However, in what can only be described as Orwellian wordsmithing, Tomasky’s argument has twisted and distorted Mill’s classical concept of what is meant by harm. Under the classic meaning, I can swing my arm wherever I want, so long as I don’t swing it into your face. It most definitely does not mean I have to support, subsidize or otherwise do anything to help you. Should you fall into a river, I am under no obligation to save you. Yet, under Tomasky’s twisted logic, any action taken by anyone where benefits accrue at the expense of another can be labeled “harm,” and thus regulated at the federal level. If I outbid a competitor on a contract and, as result, he cannot pay his rent and gets thrown out on the street, there is no doubt I contributed to his misfortune, or harm. However, it is equally not in doubt that such a connection would ever rise to the level of “harm” as articulated by Mill.