In her post "Breaking News: The Civil War Is Over" in Wednesday's New York Times, Linda Greenhouse describes the state of Virginia's challenge to the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, ignominiously known as Obamacare. The day after the PPACA was signed into law, Governor Bob McDonnell signed the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, which provides that "no resident of this Commonwealth . . . shall be required to obtain or maintain a policy of individual insurance coverage." Greenhouse elaborates: "In other words, a few weeks shy of the 150th anniversary of Virginia's 'ordinance of secession,' the Commonwealth of Virginia seceded from the reach of the federal health care law's individual mandate."
True, Virginia's challenge of the PPACA has a lot to do with asserting states' rights over Federal law. But is that really all there is to it? There are plenty of legitimate reasons to object to the individual mandate. Because of the death of the public option, the mandate requires that each one of us do business with private insurance companies that don't exactly have a good track record in terms of looking out for the welfare of their subscribers and have proven repeatedly that their only interest is their bottom line.
In the Fourth Circuit panel's ruling on Virginia's challenge of the PPACA, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote, "A state possesses no legitimate interest in protecting its citizens from the government of the United States." Greenhouse parenthetically wonders, "Should a federal judge really have to say such a thing in 2011?" as if this comes as a surprise. It shouldn't. The Founders' belief that the American people needed protection from the federal government drove them to put many such protections in the Constitution. Regardless of what you consider tyranny, our laws should indeed protect us from it. Greenhouse concludes: "So as this debate for the soul of the country continues to unfold, I take comfort—perhaps unduly, no doubt prematurely—from the reminder from the appeals court in Richmond that the Civil War is over and that p.s., the Union won."
Does anyone really believe that just because my side beat up your side, you have to agree with me? Does the fact that "the Union won" mean that the Union also wins the "debate for the soul of the country"? Might = right? Do we really believe that anyone can be persuaded by force? That the soul of the country goes to the "winner" of the Civil War? Greenhouse seems to think that the fact that the Union "won" settles everything.
The Union's so-called victory settles no more than a schoolyard brawl would. Hearts and minds are never won on the battlefield. The War Between the States changed points of view on the issues at the heart of the South's secession only insofar as it served to entrench them more deeply. The war didn't convince anyone of the moral indefensibility of slavery. If the intent was to win a moral argument, war was the absolutely least effective means available.
The American Civil War began only 150 years ago. The longer I live, the better I know how short a time that really is. We haven't come nearly as far since then as we like to think. The Pyrrhic victory that Greenhouse finds comforting didn't settle anything. She confesses that she just doesn't "get the attack on the federal law," that she doesn't "understand people who voluntarily, without claiming poverty, let their children go uninsured." Reasserting the Union's "victory" won't be especially enlightening.
Here's a radical thought: it's high time Americans started talking to each other, and—more to the point—listening to each other. Might we not defy the mainstream media's efforts to fan the flames of our ideological polarization? The media has a vested interest in that polarization: conflict makes the most compelling news and conveniently diverts attention away from the corporate owners' and sponsors' plundering of the nation's commonwealth. To be sure, actually talking and listening to each other would be very difficult. But certainly it would be less difficult than, say, Civil War.