Paul Jacob

When you hear the word “unprecedented,” reach for your . . . dictionary.

But when you hear someone say we should be “petrified” of “democracy,” what do you reach for, then?

Early last week, President Barack Obama railed against the Supreme Court and the possibility that it might overturn the 111th Congress’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, what most of us know as “Obamacare.” He said that would amount to “an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

Nonsense, of course. Overturning laws based on the U.S. Constitution is the thing the Supreme Court is most famous for doing. You can hardly get more precedented than that tradition, which started with Marbury v. Madison in 1803.

I wrote about this misuse of “unprecedented” the first chance I got, even suggesting that the president wasn’t exactly engaging in honest rhetoric.

So I sympathize with extreme reactions against the prez’s bit of election-year political posturing and lobbying of the High Court. But one can go overboard reacting to it. As did columnist David Harsanyi. Writing on reason.com, he all but likens “popular government” with Medusa herself:

Anyone who’s had a casual conversation with his neighbors or is cognizant of reality TV should already be petrified of democracy.

And then he goes on to Obama’s tongue-rattling at the Supreme Court.

Mr. Harsanyi usually makes a lot more sense, and I bring up his bizarre turns of thought not to salt the earth against any future harsanyism, but as a not-uncommon-enough example of anti-democratic hysteria, oft observed amongst my conservative and libertarian compatriots. As is typical in such tirades, the anti-democratic bits derail his generally sane approach to the policy issue at hand, in this case the boondoggle that is Obamacare:

I can assure you that if Americans were asked to vote to get boatloads of money from government, democracy would quickly become a lot more expensive.

Yet, Obamacare was hardly an example of democracy in action.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.