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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Professor Obama Holds Forth on the Mandate

One reason the supporters of Obamacare were initially overconfident about its supposed invulnerability to legal challenges was their belief that the man who signed it into law was an expert on the Constitution. This misplaced faith was based on statements Obama himself made during his first presidential campaign. At a 2007 fundraiser, for example, he told his admirers, "I was a constitutional law professor, which means unlike the current president I actually respect the Constitution." This claim turned out, of course, to be one of Obama's trademark shadings of the truth. He was never a "professor" as genuine academics use the term. He was, however, a part-time faculty member at the University of Chicago, where he occasionally subjected hapless students to pontifications on the nation's founding document.

Nonetheless, some important passages of that document have apparently escaped "Professor" Obama's memory. On August 15, during his taxpayer-funded campaign bus tour, he made several assertions about the legal travails of his "signature domestic achievement" that suggest a less-than-perfect understanding of the Constitution. In Cannon Falls, Iowa, he comforted a visibly nervous supporter who was worried about the "conservative wing" of the Supreme Court striking down the individual mandate by saying, "If the Supreme Court follows existing precedent, existing law, it should be upheld without a problem." He then added, "There's nothing wrong with saying to people who can afford to get health insurance, you need to buy health insurance just like car insurance."

The latter assertion, that the individual mandate is analogous to laws requiring people to buy auto insurance, betrays a level of ignorance concerning the difference between state prerogatives and those of Congress that wouldn't be tolerated in a high school government class. It's a little unnerving coming from the President of the United States. The scholar-in-chief apparently doesn't remember that the reach of the federal government is limited to a specific set of enumerated powers and that any power not found on that short list is reserved to the states. This is why no one has filed a constitutional challenge to the insurance mandate that was imposed on the long-suffering citizenry of Massachusetts in 2006. The Romneycare mandate was wrong-headed, but it was enacted at the state level and thus does no violence to the Constitution.

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