Victor Davis Hanson

Of course, the Supreme Court's overturning of a law is not extraordinary or unprecedented. And the president's bill did not pass by a "strong majority," but barely squeaked through the House by seven votes. What was "unprecedented" was a presidential shot across the bow of the Supreme Court on the eve of a critical decision -- especially given the fact that Obama would soon welcome the court's activism in overturning most of a duly-passed Arizona immigration law that sought to enforce federal statutes.

To get the health-care bill passed in the first place, the Obama administration swore that it was a mandate and not a tax raise, which would have contradicted his campaign pledge not to hike taxes on the middle class. Yet Verrilli worried that a mandate would be declared unconstitutional, so he argued in the chambers of the court that it was a tax -- and a majority of justices agreed.

But then the Obama administration flipped again at the thought of raising taxes on the middle class and is now calling the mandate/tax a "penalty" -- thanking the court for its wisdom while rebuking the means by which it came to it.

Conservatives have come to distrust federal courts that overturn legislative majorities. But this time, conservatives hoped that the Roberts Supreme Court would overturn Obamacare rather than the less likely scenario of a Republican president and a congressional majority in both houses doing it sometime in the future. In short, there is no consistent thing such as judicial activism or restraint -- only court rulings that support a favored political agenda and then are scorned as activist or lauded as enlightened by the particular involved parties.

A big reason for all the hypocrisies and paradoxes is that the 2,409-page health care act is a mess. Even its creators cannot agree whether it involves a mandate, tax or penalty. The public doesn't like or want it -- at least the parts it must soon pay for. It was passed only on a strictly partisan vote and under shady means (remember the "Cornhusker Kickback"). Hundreds of friends of influential Democratic politicians have already had their companies exempted from what was sold as a wonderful change. The country is nearly insolvent and $16 trillion in debt, and yet poised to take on the largest social-entitlement program in a half-century.

This mess is only the beginning, since we won't even feel the full effect (or cost) of the law for another two years. But we should assume that what starts out this badly will end even more badly.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.


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