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Kevin Drum is Making Me Nervous

John on December 14, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Kevin Drum, who I recently learned lives not far from me, has some thoughts on yesterday’s Obamacare decision and the enumerated powers of the Constitution:

The state of Massachusetts can basically do anything it wants as long as it’s arguably rational and not specifically prohibited or reserved to the federal government. And this works out fine, which is why it’s so odd to hear opponents of a federal individual mandate chatter so furiously about slippery slopes and tyranny. After all, the argument goes, if the commerce clause of the constitution is interpreted to mean the federal government can force you to buy health insurance, what can’t the federal government do?

Well, they can’t keep you from owning a gun, they can’t deny you a fair trial, they can’t stop you from voting, and they can’t prohibit you from saying anything you want. Among other things. But if all 50 states in the union can force you to buy health insurance, and none of them have yet turned into tyrannies because of it, why should we think that allowing the federal government the same power might turn it into a tyranny?

He goes on to say that enumerated powers are a weird artifact of history and, perhaps, something we should have improved upon by now.

the Apple II was a helluva job too, and that doesn’t mean it was the last word in personal computers.

That’s true, but I would argue that human beings are not subject to Moore’s law. What I mean is, we may grow a little smarter and a little taller over time but our basic impulses probably haven’t changed much in the last 10K years. So the fact that the founders were escaping the tyranny of an English king 230 years ago may seem quaint as one peeks at the Daily Mirror and the latest story on Prince Charles today. We have outgrown the specific conflict that led to many of the founder’s decisions.

But if you look at what was happening in Russia 90 years ago or Europe 70 years ago or China 50 years ago, the picture is a lot less charming. In fact, you don’t need to look back at all, just look south to Cuba or Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez seems intent on being President for life, or have a peek at today’s Russia in light of those Wikileaks cables. Look around and you begin to see the value of enumerated powers.

It’s true that Massachusetts hasn’t become a tyranny, but there’s an obvious difference between an individual state and the federal government. If you don’t like something Massachusetts does, you can leave. And in fact, many people have despite all the great schools. So many have left in the last decade that Massachusetts is on the verge of losing one of its 10 congressional seats. People are voting with their feet.

But once you enact a national scheme, there’s no where else to go. Granted, Obamacare may be a long, long way from tyranny, but there’s no doubt it’s a step closer to it than lots of Americans want to go.

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