Debunking the “ObamaCare is Conservative” Myth, Part 3

For those of us who enjoy debating with leftists over the merits of ObamaCare, the most maddening argument to encounter is, “Why are you even arguing with me!? ObamaCare is a CONSERVATIVE law! The only reason you don’t like it is because President Obama proposed it, right? I bet if Bush signed it into law, you would LOVE it!” Obviously, this frustrating argument is grounded in the myth that ObamaCare is actually a conservative law.

As I argued in part one of this series, liberals are wrongfully asserting that all conservatives are Republicans, and that all Republicans are conservatives, and that therefore anything proposed or supported by Republicans is automatically “conservative.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. In part two of this series, I looked at the entirety of the myth and examined the merits of half of its claims in their own right.

Today, I want to look at the rest of the claims made by the myth’s propagators. Before I return to dissecting its individual components, allow me to restate the full summary of the myth:

“ObamaCare” is a conservative health care law whose main tenet (the individual mandate) was originally created by the conservative Heritage Foundation and proposed as a bill by conservatives in 1993. Now, a conservative-appointed Chief Justice leading a conservative Supreme Court has upheld that conservative law, and the only reason conservatives are so intent on attacking “ObamaCare” is partisanship/racism/political gamesmanship/fill in the blank.

5.) Conservatives proposed a bill with the individual mandate in 1993

This is one of the more complicated claims. Thankfully, PolitiFact has actually addressed it in the past, so much of my work has been done for me. In 1993, some Republicans in the U.S. Senate sponsored a bill containing an individual mandate called the Health Equity and Access Reform Today (HEART) Act. Remember the distinction I made in my first post between Republicans and conservatives? Here’s where it comes into play.

While the bill had 19 Senate Republican cosponsors, that doesn’t mean it necessarily had any conservative supporters in the Senate. Here’s a relevant and concise quote from PolitiFact regarding the HEART Act’s support: “Less than half the Senate Republican conference went public in support of Chafee’s bill, most of them from the party’s more moderate wing.” Due to the bill’s lack of support even amongst a majority of Senate Republicans, the bill never came up for a vote.

Let’s take a look at some of the bill’s supporters:

- We’ll start with Senator Arlen Specter, who (as you may remember) later went on to change his party affiliation to the Democratic Party.

- Senators Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch of Utah were proud supporters. In 2010, moderate Senator Bennett lost his seat to Tea Party challenger Mike Lee. Bearing witness to the fate of his friend, Senator Hatch immediately began voting in a much more conservative manner, although he was still forced into a primary by another Tea Party candidate in Dan Liljenquist this year. Unsurprisingly, now that Hatch’s seat is safe, he’s back in the mood for compromising with the left.

- Speaking of this year, Senator Dick Lugar shared Senator Bennett’s fate in May, losing his primary to a strong conservative in Richard Mourdock.

- Senator William Cohen of Maine, who was later appointed by President Bill Clinton to be Secretary of Defense as a rare cross-party appointee. In an interview with PBS following his retirement from the Senate, journalist Jim Lehrer started the interview by stating, “The word most identified with you is moderate.”

- The late Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the famous originator of the Bridge to Nowhere, also cosponsored the HEART Act. In his final year as a Senator, he earned a meager 44% for his voting record on the Club for Growth scorecard.

- Senator John Danforth of Missouri has since penned articles openly calling himself a moderate, both politically and as a Christian.

- It even had a Democratic cosponsor in Senator David Boren of Oklahoma!

I could easily keep going, but I don’t see the point. You get the idea. Even though they were Republicans (except for Senator Boren), they weren’t conservatives. So, the myth’s claim that “conservatives” proposed the 1993 HEART Act containing an individual mandate is another misleading use of the word “conservatives” instead of “Republicans.”

6.) Chief Justice John Roberts was appointed by a conservative

This claim is somewhat subjective. President George W. Bush first nominated Chief Justice John Roberts to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Before he could be confirmed, however, Chief Justice William Rehnquist died, and President Bush renominated Roberts to be the Chief Justice.

So, here’s the decision you need to make: Was President Bush a conservative? For myself, the answer is simple: Not in the most important ways. There’s little doubt that President Bush was very conservative on social issues. But was he a fiscal conservative? Did he uphold the Constitution? Does he match the definition of a conservative that I provided in my first post?

I would argue that he doesn’t. While President Bush did have to contend with 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, his incredibly aggressive (and jaw-droppingly expensive) foreign policy has played a significant role in expanding our national debt. He signed Medicare Part D into law, a prescription drug benefit that created a massive new entitlement program which was entirely unfunded.

He fought for the No Child Left Behind Act, which greatly expanded the power and influence of the federal government in education. As you may remember, conservatives once fought against the creation of the Department of Education in the first place, arguing that education was a matter best left to the states and localities.

Throughout his presidency, he often showed a surprising disregard for the principles of limited, constitutional government. He supported the PATRIOT Act, which gave the federal government unbelievable power to conduct counter-terrorism operations.  He regularly abandoned principle in order to achieve desired ends. The best example is his justification for bank bailouts and stimulus packages: “I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.”

President Bush regularly employed the rhetoric of limited government conservatism, but he didn’t walk the walk. Some elements of his personal political philosophy may have been conservative, but in practice, his “compassionate conservatism” was little more than a tamer version of progressivism. Therefore, I would argue that President George W. Bush was not conservative, and that this claim is therefore false.

7.) The Supreme Court is conservative

Of the nine justices of the Supreme Court, five have been appointed by Republicans: Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Samuel Alito, and Justice Anthony Kennedy. The other four justices were nominated by Democrats: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Justice Elena Kagan.

However, since we know that “Republican” doesn’t always mean “conservative,” we have to look at the justices themselves to determine whether a majority are conservative. A “conservative” justice can mean something very different than a “conservative” politician or person.

I want to look at Chief Justice Roberts in particular. While he has received a great deal of (fair) criticism for his majority opinion on ObamaCare, he also bears the weighty responsibility of his office. He knows that the decisions of the Court will  have a tremendous impact on the public’s opinion of it, and he knows that the legitimacy and strength of any court relies heavily on the trust of the people. Every justice is responsible for upholding the Constitution, but the chief justice bears the secondary responsibility of maintaining the legitimacy of the Court for future generations.

Keep in mind the separation of powers set up by the Founders in order to safeguard their new republic. Each branch of government was entrusted with responsibilities and the corresponding powers necessary to fulfill them. Knowing that the accumulation of these powers in one branch of government would spell tyranny, the Founders wisely created a system of checks and balances inherent in the branches in order to allow each branch to jealously guard their powers from one another. The chief justice knows that if the Court loses the support of the American people, then it will no longer be able to function as an effective check on the other two branches, thereby destroying our system of constitutional government.

In and of itself, is this concern, this responsibility, enough to force Chief Justice Roberts into upholding ObamaCare? No, but it was enough to sway him into pursuing a middle path between striking down the law with his fellow conservatives or giving a blank check of power to the federal government alongside the liberal wing of the Court. With half the nation ready to condemn the Court as hopelessly partisan and corrupted by politics, Chief Justice Roberts undoubtedly feared that striking down the law would be the final blow on the Court’s reputation.

Knowing this, I believe that he struggled to find this middle path in order to render a constitutionally correct opinion while simultaneously saving the Court. While I disagree with the accuracy of his interpretation of the taxing and spending clause, he did safeguard the reputation of the Court while explicitly stating that the American people would have to take the responsibility upon themselves of repealing ObamaCare. On a political level, Chief Justice Roberts didn’t deliver the conservative opinion, but he did act as a conservative justice in preserving the constitutional system of government created by the Founders.

With that said, I would argue that it’s ultimately unclear whether the Supreme Court is predominantly conservative, and that the accuracy of the myth is therefore unclear. That’s true even if I were to grant that swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy is conservative. As I’ve said, there’s a difference between a conservative justice and a conservative politician or person. In other words, a conservative judicial philosophy is different from a conservative political philosophy.

Even if five of these justices are politically conservative, in their role as justices, both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy are prone to taking more activist positions. Even Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia have done so in the past. In asserting that the Supreme Court is conservative, the myth’s proponents are equivocating between the two different kinds of conservatism. In terms of their judicial philosophy, a majority of the Court may tend to be conservative, but they’re hardly reliably so.

8.) The only reason conservatives attack ObamaCare is partisanship/racism/political gamesmanship/fill-in-the-blank

If the rest of the myth leading up to the final claim were true, then I would necessarily need to admit that this claim is also accurate. However, let’s take another look at the full myth, and I’ll bold every correct part of the myth:

“ObamaCare” is a conservative health care law whose main tenet (the individual mandate) was originally created by the conservative Heritage Foundation and proposed as a bill by conservatives in 1993. Now, a conservative-appointed Chief Justice leading a conservative Supreme Court has upheld that conservative law, and the only reason conservatives are so intent on attacking “ObamaCare” is partisanship/racism/political gamesmanship/fill in the blank.

So, I’ll agree that the the individual mandate is the heart of ObamaCare. Also, while I believe that it’s unclear whether a majority of the Supreme Court is actually conservative, I’ll grant it for the sake of argument. As I’ve demonstrated, the rest of the myth is either inaccurate or misleading.

Considering the first seven claims of the myth in their entirety, I cannot concede that the eighth claim is correct. Conservatives and tea partiers are not being hypocritical, partisan, racist, or overtly political in their attempts to repeal the whole of ObamaCare. I’ve written extensively on the problems of ObamaCare before. Needless to say, we have a lot of extremely valid and substantive reasons to fight for full repeal, and we will continue to fight for full repeal despite the continuing myth that ObamaCare is somehow “conservative.”

In the final post of this series, I will address the idea that regardless of all of this, ObamaCare is still intrinsically conservative because it promotes personal responsibility and business.

About Daniel Anderson

I am a 21 year old Michigan native completing the final year of my undergraduate education at Hillsdale College. I tend to categorize my political philosophy as "constitutional conservatism." I also advocate free-market economics.
This entry was posted in Health Care, History, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Debunking the “ObamaCare is Conservative” Myth, Part 3

  1. kip says:

    So it was not originally a conservative idea, it was a Republican idea. Sorry…

  2. gracie says:

    Congratulations on doing a thoughtful analysis of contemporary conservatism vis-à-vis Obamacare. Sadly, though, I wonder: where does it get you?

    • Thank you, and I believe that it’s worth doing for its own sake. I’ve also looked around online, and I haven’t foundany systematic refutations of this myth elsewhere, so perhaps it will be a resource for others. Either way, I’m finding it enjoyable to write as well, which is always nice..

  3. Jeff says:

    No for nothing, but had McCain won and proposed this bill, most conservatives would have supported it, the same way the supported the last epic expansion in Medicare under Bush. Then there was the No Child Left Behind, then there was the SS reform which would had essentially did to SS what Obama did to health insurance.
    Your argument does have some merit, when you uphold the principles of conservatism, the problem is that while many Republicans talk about those principles, they in no way walk in them. No greater evidence of this claim is needed than to look at the actual Republican Nominee.

    Your article is technically right, but practically wrong..

    • First of all, thank you for reading and for commenting. However, I do strongly disagree with you. If McCain had won and proposed the bill, I’m sure most Republicans would have supported it. However, I also believe that few (if any) conservatives would have supported it. We can’t keep falling into this trap of equating members of political parties to political philosophies. Not every Democrat is a progressive (just look at the Blue Dogs), and not every Republican is a conservative.
      Realistically, one of the reasons that John McCain lost so badly to President Obama was that he didn’t have strong support from conservatives. There were many reasons for the lopsided loss, of course, but that was a big one. We could tell that a McCain presidency wouldn’t substantively differ from the big-government Bush presidency. The expansions of government you mentioned did enjoy strong support from Republicans, but not from conservatives.
      I’ll agree that Mitt Romney wasn’t exactly the top choice of conservatives for the nomination, but he won in a weak, weak field of candidates. Lacking a quality alternative to Romney, conservatives split their vote among several candidates, which ultimately led to Romney’s victory. Anyway, thanks again for reading, and I appreciate the book recommendation. I’ll be sure to look into it.

      • Jeff says:

        I believe you making a phantom distinction. Every republican is conservative when a liberal is in the white house.
        Let me put it this way, would a conservative support Mitt Romney? Then why would they not support un-conservative legislation

  4. Jeff says:

    Daniel if I can point you to an excellent book on this topic http://www.amazon.com/The-Elephant-Room-Evangelicals-Libertarians/dp/0471793329
    I found the book to be insightful and pleasant to read

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