At some point in the next few years, the Supreme Court will decide whether coercing individuals to purchase a product is constitutional. That's when we'll find out whether the document is worth anything at all anymore.
To this point, we've authorized Washington to micromanage our "economic activity" per the commerce clause -- which, technically speaking, means everything. We've permitted government to set up elaborate bureaucracies to keep us safe from drop-side cribs and artificial sweeteners. From our investment decisions to the snacks we're allowed to feed our kids in the schools we're forced to enroll them in, government makes choices for us in the name of the public good. What we haven't done is compel people to buy stuff.
Now, unlike the president, I have not garnered any special constitutional expertise. And if the Supreme Court rules that forcing citizens to become consumers against their will is tantamount to commerce itself, I'm happy to have skipped the trouble.
Commerce, in fact, is often more significant -- certainly more tangible -- to the average person than many sacred constitutional freedoms we like to talk about. Our life in commerce -- where we live, where we work and what we spend our dollars on -- consists of thousands of daily exercises in freedom and choice.
Yet if this mandate stands, any political group need only cobble together a majority of elected officials and find some open-minded judges dedicated to "doing the right thing" rather than upholding their oath, and government can be handed unlimited power to control not only what we can buy but also what we must buy.
Washington would be free, for instance, if it chooses, to mandate we all purchase newspapers (to bolster the public's knowledge!) or salubrious foods (eat well or we all pay). Local governments -- the kind that see nothing wrong in banning certain restaurants, for instance -- would no doubt be especially interested.
Oh, that will never happen, you radical, hateful, right-wing, Fox-News-crony nut job.
Because, as you all know, government never abuses a new pathway to intrusive power. Now, to be fair, I do not believe the individual mandate itself means the end of freedom as we know it or anything as dramatic as that. It's the logic behind the mandate that sets the corrosive precedent.