Prior to the disastrous implementation of Obamacare, has there ever been a law that fell that so far out of disfavor that the American people clamored for wholesale repeal? Yes, it was called Prohibition.
The parallels between Prohibition and Obamacare begin with the fact that both laws were the culmination of decades of “Progressive” ideals. A century ago Progressives believed that people would be better off if they were able to control what individuals were allowed to buy and sell. Modern Progressives are no different. From its first attempt in Maine in the 1850s, Progressives in both parties worked tirelessly to extend anti-alcohol laws to the entire country. This most recent bout of progressivism began sixty years ago with Democrat Harry Truman, who pushed the idea of socialized medicine. The movement received considerable advancement from Democrat Lyndon Johnson, who created Medicare, Republican George W. Bush, who added prescription drugs coverage, and Republican Mitt Romney, who built the first Obamacare-like system in Massachusetts.
Many Progressives of an earlier era wanted Prohibition for others, but not for themselves. The progressive United Methodist Church, which was officially dry but whose membership certainly wasn’t, said that, “Under slavery the Negroes were protected from alcohol, consequently they developed no high degree of ability to resist its evil effects.” A Collier’s editorial elaborated on this form of racial paternalism, “White men are beginning to see that moral responsibility for the negro rests on them, and that it is a betrayal of responsibility to permit illicit sales of dangerous liquors and drugs.” These were the attitudes of “Wet-Drys,” people who themselves drank, but who didn’t want “others” to drink. Besides racism, anti-Catholicism was rampant among earlier Progressives. Germans, Italians, and Irish (and let us not forget anti-Catholicism’s sibling, anti-semitism), flooded America’s cities during this period–and they all drank! Modern progressives similarly want Obamacare for thee, but not for me. Most infamous is that Congress specifically exempted itself and its employees from the new Obamacare requirements when it passed the law. Favored Progressive partners too–especially unions–have asked for, and gained their own Obamacare exemptions. Hypocrisy enjoys a long pedigree among Progressives.
Electoral chicanery is another similarity. There was a rush to enact the Eighteenth Amendment before the 1920 Census resulted in redistricting that would give more House seats to the cities and the immigrant Catholics who lived there. Following the census, which recorded a 21% population increase largely as a result of immigration, there was so much concern that “Wets” would gain the upper hand in Congress as well as in state legislatures, that Congress was never redistricted in accordance with the Constitution. Until 1933 when Prohibition was finally overturned, the House was stuck with the same district lines that were drawn back in 1910. A century later, modern Progressives played similar games after Republican Scott
Walker Brown’s surprise election to the Senate from Massachusetts meant that the House bill enacting Obamacare could not be ratified. Instead, an earlier Senate bill, that was nowhere near to ready for implementation and which had not gone through a conference committee, was accepted without modification in the House, and in defiance of the Constitutional provision that revenue bills had to originate in the House.
In 1925 H.L. Mencken observed:
“Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”
More than three years after the passage of Obamacare, one could make similar observations: there is not greater health insurance coverage but less; there is not lower health care costs, but more; and certainly, respect for the law–even from the law’s namesake and executor–has not increased, but diminished.
There is a final similarity which I am afraid might also come to pass. While it is popularly believed that the 18th Amendment was repealed, that was actually not exactly true. The 21st Amendment did not return things to the way they had been. Instead of repeal, the modfication to the Constitution gave the States special power to legislate alcohol. Because the Amendment gives the States jurisdiction, alcohol is not afforded protection under the interstate commerce clause. Each state can, and does, tax interstate sales, while they prevent residents from acquiring alcohol across state lines. This, and a whole host of other state restrictions, has created a hodge podge of laws that makes life difficult for wine-makers, retailers, and consumers alike. The only beneficiaries of such legal confusion are the descendants of Prohibition’s bootleggers who are now ensconced in legally mandated monopolies.
Similarly, when Obamacare meets its demise, it is unfortunately likely to die in such a way that the successor system will leave Americans worse off than they were before Obamacare ever became law. I hope that on this latter prediction, I am proved wrong.