When a Tax Is Not a Tax

During the first year of Barack Obama's presidency, most conservatives were livid at the smug absurdities of the progressive Left. Like naïve children, we believed that (even in politics) it is wrong to say one thing and then walk across the street and say the opposite. We were shocked that not everyone shared our outrage.

Conservatives are now less incredulous. Experience with liberal tactics has taught us that simultaneously claiming two mutually exclusive positions does not represent sloppy thinking at all, but rather a skillful Orwellian method of gaining support for bad policies. This is the way the Left does business.

A recent example of this audacious use of contradiction involves the health insurance "mandate." This controversial provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires people to get health insurance or pay a fine. In September of 2009, during his tireless stumping for health care "reform," President Obama took the position that the mandate does not constitute a tax increase on those affected. A lively exchange took place during an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week." Obama steadfastly refused to call the mandate a "tax." Stephanopoulos gave no ground, declaring that "it's still a tax increase." "No.  That's not true, George," said Obama. "I absolutely reject that notion."

Other key Democrats echoed the same denial. Senator Max Baucus, with his characteristic frail logic, apparently reasoned that because the tax increase did not apply to everyone, it did not exist at all: "Senator Max Baucus ... said the overall legislation would actually cut taxes for Americans. 'The whole story is there is a $40 billion net tax cut provided for in this bill.'"

By all accounts, the Democrats genuinely believed that the health care mandate was not a tax increase. And it is understandable that they wanted Americans to believe it, too. After all, Obama promised during his campaign that "[n]o family making less than $250,000 will see any form of tax increase."

Inconveniently, shortly after the health care bill was passed into law in March of 2010, the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, sued the federal government over the constitutionality of the new law. The lawsuit names Barack Hussein Obama, in his capacity as President of the United States, as one of the defendants. The Complaint alleges that the law's mandate requiring people to either buy health insurance or pay a fine is unconstitutional.

The Department of Justice, speaking on behalf of President Obama and the other defendants in his administration, recently filed its Response. Among other arguments, the defendants assert: "The Minimum Coverage Provision Is Constitutional as an Exercise of the Power to Tax and Spend to Provide for the General Welfare." In short, the mandate is constitutional because it constitutes a federal tax.

Of course, the mainstream media has paid little attention to this matter. Perhaps the real story is that most Americans are not surprised by new examples of blatant political deceit. Whether we favor it or not, leftist doublethink has become accepted reality. 

But if America's collective conscience has been eroded by the continuous flow of glib deception, we should shock ourselves back to outrage by pondering the qualitative difference of the untruths now perpetrated on citizens. Before, when presidents broke campaign promises and politicians changed positions on issues, everyone recognized the duplicity. Even the politicians were embarrassed because they were forced to retract their previous statements. George H.W. Bush regretted his famous "read my lips" pledge of no new taxes, because everyone recognized what the new taxes looked like when they were imposed.

Not so with the new left. There is no embarrassment of retraction, no recognition that the opposite statement also has meaning. In this way, our president can tell the American people that a tax is "absolutely" not a new federal tax and then state in a federal court document that the tax is valid precisely because it is a new federal tax. Sadly, we know that if the Stephanopoulos interview were repeated tomorrow, Obama would confidently declare that the mandate is not a tax.

The offering of bald-faced contradictions by national leaders, and the adulating acceptance of these lies by the population at large, is a hallmark of repressive third-world regimes. Kim Jong-il declares that his proud nation is agriculturally self-sufficient while North Koreans praise Dear Leader and starve in the countryside. In such societies, mockeries of logic have devolved into the norm, fueled by a cult of personality, enabled by a compliant press, and reinforced by repetition and time. 

Our charismatic president apparently believes this can happen in America. Obama famously rejects American exceptionalism, and in this, at least, he is perversely consistent. If we allow the power-driven contradictions of the left to trump logic itself, then we speed our decline toward equivalency with the most politically backward regimes in the world. It is one more wayward step away from America as we know her.

Lawrence E. Harkenrider is an attorney living in Key West, Florida.