Once upon a time, some of us counted heads and concluded that there was little chance of ObamaCare ever becoming law — or, if through some mischance it did, ever staying law. But now after the passage of a number of years and any amount of public and private maneuvering, our naiveté has evolved into a much more realistic view of politics. We now know, for example, that if the left-wing liberal power structure get the chance to put another notch in their gun, they’ll pull the trigger, no matter how many innocent people wind up shot. No matter how many of their own party they have to bribe or threaten, no matter how much they have to lie about what they’re doing, no matter how many stories they have to make up about other people.
We also learned that the Republican Party establishment get by only by breathing the air bubbles trapped under the Democratic Party’s ice. And so, despite the election of 2010 — indeed, in the face of the 2010 election — the best we can get out of them are meaningless votes to repeal ObamaCare when the one effective blow they could have struck in the House of Representatives was to defund it, and they can’t bring themselves to do it.
The final disillusionment was of course the Supreme Court. A weak reed for Americans and especially conservatives to lean on but still, even some of the Democrat representatives and senators who voted for ObamaCare were hoping that the court would strangle it before it grew fangs. No such luck. Chief Justice John Roberts developed an opium-eater’s vision of what ObamaCare was, or said he did (there must be story behind that!), and so, 5-4, we’re bereft of any hope for relief.
…Inside the Beltway, anyway.
But outside D.C., ObamaCare passes into a very different venue: the people! As in “We the People of the United States … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Remember them? And while politicians are, as a class, a windy, craven bunch, the people rarely are.
And among their most important practice is the practice of medicine. Not medicine as in actually wielding the scalpel or writing the prescription, but medicine in the sense of informing oneself and then choosing — emphasis on choosing — what one feels is the right doctor, the right treatment, diet, or therapy for one’s children, spouse, and parents. And while until now the argument over ObamaCare has been mostly theoretical, that’s about to change, with medical choices limited. Perhaps the nearby little hospital which you love is consolidated with the bigger one a drive away, or the average doctor’s appointment falls from to ten minutes or five, followed by the choice in doctors being narrowed so that you have to accept the one assigned to you by the government. Or certain tests or treatments which were once ordered automatically will be denied because they don’t fit the metric of some anonymous advisory panel — as all the while the amount families pay for medical insurance doubles, then doubles again.
So what happens then?
Well, in my mind, an image emerges. Not of vast demonstrations or of well-suited lawyers arguing before a bench — we’re beyond all that. Instead, what I see is the busy little hamlet of Highland ninety miles north of New York City in the township of Lloyd. A working-class community where downtown on Vineyard Avenue, a municipal parking lot makes a gap-toothed smile out of a row of neatly kept nineteen-twenties storefronts.
And a great metaphor for unenforceable law.
The parking lot is the former location of Highland’s movie theater, in the nineteen-forties and fifties providing family entertainment just a short walk downtown. But in the nineteen-sixties, it was allowed by a U.S. Supreme Court decision to be transformed into an XXX movie house, and in those days, before internet porn, it drew all manner of strange men into town.
I’m not a lawyer, and I can’t recite the legal ins and outs of the Supreme Court’s decision about community standards and pornography. I just remember the county D.A.’s struggle to close it down in the teeth of their rulings and how he failed. I remember the community support for the D.A. from the mothers and fathers and grandparents appalled at the dark characters their children were encountering, and I particularly remember the crowing of the XXX movie theater owners every time they won one of the legal contests. Much on the order of Nancy Pelosi caw-cawing when she won the ObamaCare vote in the House of Representatives.
Yet it was their hometown. The community never gave up resisting, and eventually, through one work-around or another, the theater was torn down and paved over.
Because the people just wouldn’t have it.
A fairly close parallel might be the community-by-community rejection of Roe v. Wade. Courts can order that abortion facilities be allowed to operate, and the federal government fund them through Planned Parenthood all they want, but however they do it, the locals usually wind up, in one fashion or another, tearing them down, and I guess sometimes paving them over, too. Entire states are today almost entirely free of abortion clinics.
Similarly, the Supreme Court can order schools not to provide an invocation at high school commencements, but valedictorians eventually realize that nobody can stop them from reciting the Lord’s prayer, and so they do — or, as is happening and has happened, millions of parents shift to homeschooling their children, where they can pray, recite the pledge of allegiance, condemn homosexuality or transgender experimentation, and watch their children play cowboys and Indians to their heart’s content. (For that matter, play dodge-ball, baseball, king of the hill — or, on the distaff side, dolls, house and dress-up, crack-the-whip, or patty-cake.) They can even teach their children what the word “distaff” means, not to mention words like, hero, charmer, love, win, triumph, loyalty, patriotism…and the government so far has been powerless to stop them.
Indeed, examples of the citizenry nullifying the effect of laws and court decisions are legion. In New York City, illegal car services outnumber licensed or “medallioned” taxis. Smokers have access to “backyard bars” similar to the speakeasies which operated during prohibition. In fact, prohibition itself is a great example of the phenomenon: many people liked to have a drink now and again, just like their fathers and grandfathers had. The government said they couldn’t, and guess what: they did.
This resistance to higher authority violating the norms of community common sense is as old as America, with maybe the most telling example from our nation’s history being the public’s response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The statute’s enforcement in the North, when and where it could be enforced, so affronted individual Northern communities that the die was cast for Bleeding Kansas, Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech, the rise of the Republican Party, and the Civil War.
Because while northern and western people might tolerate slavery far away in the southland, they couldn’t countenance its brutality being played out in their communities. Just like the good people of Highland in the long run wouldn’t suffer a XXX movie theater just down the street. Just like the good people of Anytown, USA may not tolerate a Medicaid clinic or something that smells like a National Health Service surgery being established under their noses and then being told that that that is where they have to wait in line for their seven-year-old’s emergency treatment.
Indeed, Prohibition aside, it’s difficult to think of a statute which has not only produced such general upset as the Affordable Care Act has, but will. Because every indication is that the people will hate it. And even though my draughty reasoning process can’t foresee the ultimate outcome, I know it’s not going to be what the power structure in Washington expects. Or what any of us expects, because in the end, the people are going to do exactly what they want to do with it.
Maybe even give me another place to park my pickup.
Richard F. Miniter is the author of The Things I Want Most, Random House, BDD, who lives and writes in the colonial-era hamlet of Stone Ridge, New York. He blogs at richardfminiterblog.com and can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.