Obama: Tsk it, Tax it, Lie if George Unmasks it

I missed ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” yesterday, but the transcript is pure gold. It’s not often that one sees a sitting president ambushed by a prominent member of his own party — an official from that party’s last presidential administration, even — with allegations of a stealth tax increase.

That’s what happened, though. In the transcript version at least, Obama’s words take on the tone of an amateur magician who’s just been caught with an extra pack of cards falling out of his sleeve, desperately attempting to regain the advantage of misdirection and make those cards disappear from view:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Under this mandate, the government is forcing people to spend money, fining you if you don’t. How is that not a tax?

OBAMA: Well, hold on a second, George. Here — here’s what’s happening. You and I are both paying $900, on average — our families — in higher premiums because of uncompensated care. Now what I’ve said is that if you can’t afford health insurance, you certainly shouldn’t be punished for that. That’s just piling on.

If, on the other hand, we’re giving tax credits, we’ve set up an exchange, you are now part of a big pool, we’ve driven down the costs, we’ve done everything we can and you actually can afford health insurance, but you’ve just decided, you know what, I want to take my chances. And then you get hit by a bus and you and I have to pay for the emergency room care, that’s …

STEPHANOPOULOS: That may be, but it’s still a tax increase.

OBAMA: No. That’s not true, George.

The whole thing goes on through several iterations, including one in which Stephanopoulos pulls out a dictionary definition of “tax” and Obama claims that resorting to, you know, actual definitions isn’t playing fair.

First, the obvious: Yes, the “individual mandate” in ObamaCare as described by the president in his speech to Congress week before last is a tax. It’s a tax with a twist — you can choose whether you pay it to Uncle Sugar directly or to an insurance company on Uncle Sugar’s orders — but you don’t get to decide not to pay it. It’s “a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes” (The Merriam-Webster definition quoted by Stephanopoulos).

The “public purpose” in question is somewhat nebulous, but Obama himself acknowledges that the whole mess isn’t about your health. Rather it’s about making sure that a government program to provide health care to the poor or indigent is neither over-enrolled nor under-funded. The “individual responsibility” he refers to is not responsibility for your own health, but responsibility for making his program “work.”

There’s nothing new under the sun, of course. This kind of legerdemain is how much, perhaps even most, government business is done. Politicians decide what you “should” have, be it a health insurance policy, an airbag or infant seat in your car, or (usually at the local level) a new roof or paint job on your house.

Then, rather than simply imposing a tax on you and providing that thing, they instead pass legislation requiring you to spend the money yourself. They still get their rake-offs, of course, in the form of campaign contributions and tax payments from the “private enterprises” you’ve been forced, on their orders, to patronize. As a fringe benefit, they get to posture themselves as wise guardians of the commonweal instead of as what they are: Middle-men in a seedy racket.

ObamaCare and the “individual mandate” aren’t new ideas. They’re merely variations on a theme as old as government itself. Rejection of such mysticism can be personally liberating to a degree. If it is ever rejected wholesale, though, a new Renaissance would result as political government dissolves and is replaced by free association.

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