Monday, March 29, 2010

A Civil War over health care?

President Obama signed the health care legislation he’d fought so hard for into law last week.

It was a bit of a disappointment if you believe, as I do, that affordable health care is a basic right that should be available to everyone, as it is in the rest of the civilized world.

Because this bill doesn’t really do it.

It does make some advances over our present system. It limits insurance companies’ ability to deny coverage base on a prior existing condition or cancel people’s coverage when they get sick. It extends insurance coverage to the majority of the nation’s currently uninsured through public insurance exchanges with subsidies for those who can’t afford coverage.

It also requires that everyone have health insurance, either through their employers, from a private company or through the exchanges.

Mandatory coverage was initially a Republican idea. The plan Mitt Romney oversaw as governor of Massachusetts has coverage mandates. It was trade off with the insurance industry, for losing their ability to refuse to insure those with pre-existing conditions.

But now the mandates have whipped up a frenzy among Republicans who – a few years too late to keep George W. Bush from wiretapping Americans and reading their e-mail without a warrant and suspending habeas corpus – have discovered that they love the Constitution.

And, they claim, that nothing in the Constitution gives the government the right to make you buy a product, like health insurance.

Among the newly minted Constitutional scholars signing on to this view and a lawsuit to stop implementation of the health care reform bill is Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a former patent attorney.

Fresh off controversies over an opinion he issued – apparently without anybody asking for one – that Virginia public colleges cannot ban discrimination against gays and lesbians, and a video in which he agreed with a questioner that it was “plausible” that Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii as has been conclusively proven, Cuccinelli jumped right back into the hornet’s nest.

If you don’t support protecting a group of people from discrimination, then you support discrimination against them. If you aren’t convinced that Obama was born in Hawaii by now, you’re either stupid, insane, so partisan that you’re past caring what the facts are or you’re a politician lying to curry favor with people who are among the first three categories.

One of his legal theories is that the government doesn’t have the power to force you to buy a product.

Apparently the A.G. doesn’t own a car in Virginia. I do. You probably do too. So you probably know that the state forces you to buy car insurance. You can refuse. But if you do, you’ll pay a hefty fee/fine. That’s the same deal with the health insurance mandate. If you refuse to have coverage, you’ll get fined.

In both cases it’s a case of government being forced to mandate common sense. It’s unfortunate that that’s necessary, but as with motorcycle helmet laws and seat belts, it is. We, as a society have to force the dumber and help the poorer among us to do the right thing, because otherwise they cost the rest of us a lot of money. Yeah, okay, call me a socialist; I’m for mandatory small pox vaccinations as well.

The argument is lost on Cuccinelli and his ilk, as is the clause in the constitution authorizing Congress to act for the “general welfare” and the specific provision allowing it to oversee interstate commerce. Even most conservative legal scholars think the lawsuit is a joke.

But that’s not the only legal leg that our crusading A.G. has to stand on. During the 2010 session of the General Assembly, Cuccinelli’s fellow traveler on the Republican extreme right, Del. Bob Marshall (R-Manassas) introduced a bill that would exempt Virginia citizens from any federal requirement to purchase insurance, citing the state’s power under the 10th Amendment, “the State’s Rights amendment.”

Can an act of the General Assembly override federal law? No, according to most legal theorists. But there is precedent for Marshall and Cuccinelli’s argument, a doctrine that has historically been called “Interposition.” In the years before the Civil War, South Carolina argued vehemently that federal laws passed to regulate the slave trade did not apply to South Carolina.

The issue spawned a number of court cases, laws and compromises, but was ultimately settled nearly 150 years ago at Appomattox. In blood.

Virginia essentially revived Interposition in the late 1950s and early 1960s as it futilely fought its rear guard “Massive Resistance” battle against integrating the public schools. That was solved in the courts, but not without bloodshed.

Note that whenever “states rights” are hauled out of the rhetorical closet it’s to deny individuals their rights.

Don’t think Virginia’s invocation of the moribund 10th Amendment is unique. Other states passed similar laws.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, whose state is one of the biggest beneficiaries of federal government spending, commented that if federal “tyranny” continued, Texas might have to consider succeeding from the Union.

Note the talk of violent revolution at Tea Party events.

A candidate for the House of Delegates in Virginia last year said that if the Tea Party activists don’t get what they want from the ballot box, they’d have to turn to the “bullet box.”

Threats have been made this week against both Democratic and a Republican congressmen in Virginia.

In urging calm, Bearing Drift, perhaps the state’s predominant Republican blog, said opponents of health care reform should let the judicial process play out, “before we think about resorting to violence.”

Resorting to violence? Over changes in the health insurance system? Really?

Most people in the Tea Party movement don’t mean their threats and ranting, of course. They’re just political bullies. They think if you yell louder and make threats, you’ll get your way. Even though you aren’t the majority. They’ve learned their lesson from Lenin, who famously named his party the Bolsheviks (majority), even though they were far from that. So most of these people will back down when push comes to shove, as most bullies will.

But a goodly percentage of them are fanatical racists (if racist signs appear at every event your group holds, you might have some racists in your group) and another smaller percentage are mentally ill conspiracy nuts.

Those people are serious and they are armed.

Which makes them dangerous.

Although rational people might find the idea of armed struggle in America over health care reform ludicrous, there are people seriously arguing that position on the Internet and perhaps even in the streets of Williamsburg.

For that reason, our political leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, need to cool the partisan rhetoric and to make it clear in both their words and actions that violence is not an acceptable part of our political process and will be punished to the full extent of the law. That means, Mr. Attorney General, not nodding along with lunatics who question the legitimacy of the president and not using red meat, inaccurate rhetoric like “socialism” to press your case that Virginia’s citizens need to be protected from receiving health care.
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