Bill Murchison

Last weekend, President Obama allowed that we voters are too scared right now to "think clearly," but let us gut up and try anyway, shall we? We really can't sort out too often the stakes in this election, including possibly the most important matter of all: whether the federal government can do anything it decides to.

So first, for courage, a few slugs of Old Be Joyful; then we'll contemplate what goes on in the ObamaCare lawsuit that a federal judge in Florida said last week should proceed to trial, the perfervid arguments of the Justice Department notwithstanding.

Twenty states are challenging the supposed mandate to buy health insurance. The Justice Department says the requirement is a tax only. Congress has the power to tax, right? What's the problem?

The problem for the 20 states is attempted federal overreach into the lives of those individual Americans the government wants to "tax" in the interest of universalizing health care. A requirement to buy something, the states contend, isn't a "tax" within the meaning of the Constitution. The judge finds that argument worthy of consideration. On with the trial, he commands. Let the government present its evidence, the states theirs, and we'll see about all this.

The question here is in one crucial sense about health care, but it is in fact about much more than that. It concerns the federal government's claimed entitlement to instruct us concerning the decisions we make about caring for our health. It is possible, no doubt, to claim that ObamaCare, as enacted last spring by Congress, is so wonderful a thing no one should miss out on it. It is another matter entirely to suggest that the end here justifies the means. That's to say because ObamaCare is wonderful/marvelous/you name it, you and you and you should be made to buy into it.

That kind of assertion gives off the odor of tyranny -- a prospect worse, I hope we can agree, than gaps in health insurance coverage. The U.S. Constitution was designed to prevent, among things, tyranny. It specifies with some care and also, yes, with some reasonable ambiguity just what government can do and what it can't do. Among other things government can do, as we all know, is tax. Thus the government (according to the Justice Department) says it can require you to buy insurance and -- if you don't do so -- "tax" you for your stupidity.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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