The healthcare reform bill, controversy over Rand Paul’s Civil Rights Act comments, and the current debate over immigration law all suggest a fundamental question: Do laws precede or follow public support for the principles underlying them? Does a law have the ability to force a change in a society’s values, or must an effective law be consistent with those values from the outset? I suppose that the answer depends to some degree on the amount of social dislocation and disorientation that the law entails. Lurching and expansive legislative encroachments, regardless of their academic appeal, are likely to be resented by a populace that is not supportive of them.
When a law is enacted contrary to significant public opposition, the natural outcomes are increasingly coercive enforcement measures, or widespread flouting of the law. Neither is hygeinic to a flourishing democracy. The experiment of prohibition is probably the most obvious example of this principle, with many of the excesses of drug enforcement providing supporting references. Governments do not “lead” healthy societies to adopt particular values; to the contrary, they can only function effectively when they reflect the values of the population, for good or ill.
If the people do not support ObamaCare, they will find ways around it. It will become an albatross. States will be under pressure to permit alternative disciplines to practice healing arts, conceirge practices will spring up to cater to wealthy clients who will refuse the rationing queues, and medical tourism will flourish. Bankruptcy laws will have to accommodate nonpayment of insurance premiums, the government monopsony will have to subsidize failing and inefficient physicians, as it will be unable to simultaneously control supply, quality and cost. Fraud and waste will consume increasing portions of medical costs while outcomes stagnate.
The grand lesson to be learned from ObamaCare, probably from dusty hard drives a hundred years from now, is that all of the smart, flippant and self-assured “leaders” of the early twenty-first century were not nearly as smart as they thought they were.