This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 01, 2012.
I grew up in Massachusetts, and it will come as no surprise that the image and fact of Harvard College was a persistent presence. We were not a Harvard family, although my mother's father and my father's brother were graduates and did well. I went to elementary and prep school with kids who you knew were going to go, because they were smart, had good grades, and four generations of alumni or more in their family. Still, while Harvard was admired, it was also a joke. Hoidy Toidy manners, affected accents, pretentious alumni who considered themselves and their college the epitome of western civilization, good breeding, and good looks took care of that.
When my grandfather had a photo of his yacht taken, the Harvard banner was there in the Padanaram breeze below the national flag. I'm pretty sure, below it.
For all that, Harvard with its faults and issues can be mighty handy, awfully competent, and the rugged oak it always thought it was. Take the mandated health care issue of President Obama's Affordable Health Care Act. As well, of Governor Romney's health care package he pushed through to completion in Massachusetts, which he now decries, especially the mandated participation part. How un-American of that Kenyan Socialist! Newt Gingrich, Romney's rival for the GOP presidential nomination, has gone further and called it a refutation of everything American and an insult to the Founding Fathers.
Enter Harvard Law School professor Einer Elhauge, I think it pronounced. In his January 5, 2012, commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine titled "The Irrelevance of the Broccoli Argument against the Insurance Mandate," the good professor says that some people "argue that the Constitution's framers could not possibly have envisioned a congressional power to force purchases." We need not wonder who those people are. This is the opinion held by those right wingers who view Harvard as a struggling Internet education business catering to Home Schooled Children in Satanic Spells.
And if Congress can mandate insurance purchase, the argument goes, what prevents it from mandating the purchase of brocolli? Republicans don't like brocolli. This was the underpinning of Michelle Bachman's fury about light bulbs, by the way, since government has restricted incandescent bulbs and essentially mandated lower power alternatives, all part of this new, evil, un American power unleashed upon the innocent by Barack Hussein Obama.
Yet, in the 1790, the first Congress, which included not a few framers of the Constitution, required all American ship owners to provide medical insurance for seamen. Eight years later, apparently drunk and under the influence of Marx, who'd wouldn't be born for two more decades, Congress also required seamen to buy hospital insurance for themselves.
In between, in 1792, Congress also enacted a law requiring all able-bodied citizens obtain a firearm, which of course Republicans would love. But, taken in aggregate, these facts, the professor says, "...negates any claim that forcing the purchase of insurance or other products is unprecedented or contrary to any possible intention of the framers."
These laws seem reasonable and good. The 1790 law applied to any U.S. ship of 150 tons or more and with a crew of at least 10. It required the ship to have a supply of on-board medicines (with instructions) or provide "all such advice, medicine, or attendance of physicians, as any of the crew shall stand in need of in case of sickness" and do it "without any deduction from the wages of such sick seaman or mariner." That kinda sounds like mandated insurance, doesn't it? Yeah, it does. And George Washington, that East Coast Liberal or Moderate or, you know, sissy, signed it.
In 1798 Congress, with five Constitutional framers, required every ship coming into a port to pay 20 cents per seaman for every month of employment. Those funds, according to Politifact, ....which could be withheld from the seamen, were used "to provide for the temporary relief and maintenance of sick or disabled seamen, in the hospitals or other proper institutions now established" in the port. Leftover funds were used to create hospitals for those mariners. This bill was signed by that flaming liberal John Adams.
None of votes was unanimous, but the professor said "I donít think anyone objected to any of these laws on constitutional grounds, which presumably someone would have if it was obvious that the original understanding was that such an obligation would be unconstitutional." Good point, that.
So why didn't that great historian, Newt Gingrich, know this? That would require looking stuff up, and familiarity with the materials of our early government, which is one of many, many things that nobody in the GOP has or is likely to develop an interest in. They have more important worries. We have a black President, for example. The horror.