Bob Franken

King Features column

(As usual, the arrangement withe the syndicator means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)


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If the hostile questions from the justices who make up the Supreme Court’s right wing are predictive, their ruling, at the very least, will mean the individual mandate is a goner, because, argues the tea party’s Antonin Scalia, “you can make people buy broccoli.”

What is it with Republicans and broccoli? In any case, just joshing about Scalia’s tea-party connection; Clarence Thomas is the justice literally in bed with the movement. The politics caused both sides to make a mockery out of judicial temperament. This was a temper tantrum, as the GOP appointees on the bench competed to shower the most scorn on Obamacare (except for Thomas, of course, who was doing crosswords, or whatever he does while sitting silently up there).

As we’ve heard ad nauseum, the laughable irony all along was that the mandate originally was the creation of the very conservatives who oppose it now in their zeal to discredit Barack Obama. So these days, it’s up to the liberals and president to defend it, even though, as we all know, candidate Obama in 2008 was outspoken against the idea. “I mean, if a mandate was the solution,” he declared, “we can try to solve homelessness by mandating everybody buy a house.” Presumably, there would be a dining room in which to eat all that broccoli.

The president, meanwhile, is eating a little crow. After he took office, all his sound bites collided with reality, and here he and his peeps are left to defend the individual mandate. But they’re missing an important point: Those who do not have insurance impose a collective mandate on all of those who do. We are required to pay their costs, in the form of higher rates to finance their medical care in emergency rooms and elsewhere.

Let’s ignore those who absurdly argue that the slackers should fend for themselves and be denied treatment. First of all, doctors take an oath to treat the afflicted, which they must do — unless, of course they come up with ways to duck their responsibilities because they aren’t paid enough, even with the kickbacks they can get from the pharmaceutical companies.

By tradition, we always have been a society that cares for the sick and needy. Granted that support for the less fortunate is obliterated in the various GOP budget proposals, still we cling to the notion we are a compassionate society. Since the super-rich don’t pay anywhere near a fair share of their wealth in taxes, it is up to the rest of us to pick up the tab for those who simply can’t or won’t buy insurance. Call it the “suckers’ mandate.”

Right now, those who favor the individual mandate and the health-care plan overall are babbling about their slim hopes that the harsh questions from the Supremes didn’t necessarily portend the final vote. Dream on: Usually such a tough interrogation is a great portender. If so, we can kiss the mandate goodbye, and maybe the entire reform legislation.

Already we are hearing the prophets talk about who profits if Obamacare bites the dust. Some of the so-called experts contend that while the White House initially will be embarrassed, Democrats might be able to raise the alarm and rev up their lethargic supporters, while Republicans gloat but lose one of their hot-button rallying cries, taken away from them by their victory.

The truth is, nobody knows how this will play out, except that we would be left with a health-care system that cripples the economy while it provides inadequate care. There will be one more group of winners. That would be the insurance companies, who never lose. They will maintain their stranglehold on our wallets and our economy no matter how this comes out. If the majority of Supremes have made anything clear with previous rulings, it is their worship of corporations. Protecting them, they believe, is their most important mandate.

© 2012 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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