Oh, by the way, if you’d really like to know, he went that way.
The White Rabbit.
He did what?
Went that way.
The White Rabbit.
But didn’t you just say ...
Cheshire Cat: Can you stand on your head?
Happy Independence Day week; but oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, that we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto? In fact, we’re not anywhere in what has been the United States of America.
When I first became a Massachusetts political activist, I met Jim Powers of the Legislative Research Bureau, who said, “Welcome. You are about to fall down the rabbit hole,” a reference of course to “Alice in Wonderland” that turned out to be the defining story of my ongoing activist career.
But that was just Massachusetts. Last week, with the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, Alice-the-entire-country followed the White Rabbit, Chief Justice John Roberts, down the rabbit hole to Wonderland.
Eat the cookie, citizens, and grow small. Look, there’s the Red Queen, Nancy Pelosi, who as House Speaker when the Obamacare bill was debated, famously told our elected representative in Congress “we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.”
Queen of Hearts:
Now then, are you ready for your sentence?
But there has to be a verdict first.
Queen of Hearts:
Sentence first! Verdict afterwards.
Alice: But that just isn’t the way.
Yes, it was the way, Alice. And still is, since Obamacare is so huge and complicated that no one can predict how much will go wrong as it’s implemented. This is one reason it’s a drag on our economy; businesses can’t predict how it will affect them if they hire more employees.
So to some Americans, it seemed a good idea to make it go away and start over with more moderate health insurance reform; some of them filed a lawsuit arguing that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.
Facing many complicated arguments, Chief Justice Roberts chose to dive for the rabbit hole, so he could rule from a place that didn’t require he make sense. He began to write that the mandate is unconstitutional because the federal government can’t tell citizens they must buy insurance, then swerved to say that it’s constitutional because while the government can’t tell citizens they must buy insurance, it can punish them for not buying insurance with a penalty that he decided to call a tax.
Most of us still standing above ground were stunned by the idea of a tax on NOT doing something. Some, reluctant to say that the Chief Justice seemed to be standing on his head, tried to find a way to justify the decision: ‘‘Twas brillig/and the slithy toves/did gyre and gimble in the wabe/all mimsy were the borogoves/.” Translation, something about Roberts wanting to save the reputation of the Supreme Court.
If this was his motivation, it seems to have backfired. The Wall Street Journal wrote that “his ruling ... reads if it were written by someone affronted by the government’s core constitutional claims but who wanted to uphold the law anyway to avoid political blowback and thus found a pretext for doing so in the taxing power.”
More succinctly, syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg wrote about Robert’s decision-making methodology, “Why not just cut open a goat and be done with it?”
The Obama administration, supposedly celebrating its victory, sent the president’s chief of staff, Jack Lew, to the Sunday morning talking head shows to discuss the decision. He told Chris Wallace on Fox and George Stephanopoulos on ABC that the mandate isn’t a tax, but a penalty. Both responded, “But the court just said it’s a tax!” to which Lew just kept repeating “penalty, penalty,” as if he were sipping tea at the Mad Hatter’s party.
President Cheshire Cat, previously grinning from the trees, slowly disappeared, as the news shows featured old clips of him saying the mandate wasn’t a tax because he would never tax the middle class. By the way, White Knight Mitt Romney had to agree, as he walked backward from his own Massachusetts mandate: His adviser Eric Fernstrohm, on MSNBC, also said it’s a penalty, not a tax.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell popped up from his teacup for some incoherent discussion about repeal plans that culminated in his refusal to answer a key question from both hosts: If Republicans offer an alternative, how will you deal with the contradiction between covering pre-existing conditions and not having a mandate to buy insurance?
Well, if we want to celebrate a lot more Independence Days, someone better do something. To update the story into another, more recent revolution: Grace Slick warns in “White Rabbit” (paraphrased), “When the men on the chessboard get up and tell you where to go ... When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead ... if you go chasing rabbits, you know you’re going to fall ...” (because) the pills that (government) gives you, don’t do anything at all ... Go ask Alice, when she’s just small.”
Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is a regular contributor to these pages.