Why is this mandate different from all other mandates?

One of the central concerns that conservatives have about the individual mandate is that it would lead to unlimited federal authority over our individual lives. If Congress can require us to purchase health insurance, conservatives sometimes ask, can’t it require us to purchase cars or broccoli or cell phones? Defenders of the mandate have been so concerned to show that it is justifiable under the Commerce and Necessary and Proper clauses—and there the argument seems quite straightforward—that we have not been focused enough on making sure that we don’t prove too much. And that’s partly because we tend to be political progressives and are not as worried as conservatives about limiting federal power over our economic lives. We are not libertarians, after all. While we progressive are adamant about defending civil liberties, we generally don’t believe that there is a general right to economic liberty. And thus, unless government forces … Continue reading

The Founding Fathers and Health Care

Revised version of an article published in The Philadelphia Public Record, March 15, 2012 under the title The Founding Fathers and Health Care Later this month the Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). There is a narrow question concerning the Commerce Clause and the individual mandate. Most lawyers who have thought about the issue or read the decision of conservative judge Laurence Silberman understand that the mandate is constitutional. There is also a larger debate about not just the ACA but much else the government does. Contemporary right wingers say that the Federal government has gone far beyond its constitutional limits in regulating, taxing and subsidizing economic activity. Libertarians such as Ron Paul argue that the Founders wanted to create a “limited government” that protects our “liberty.” They suppose that by “limited government” the Founders meant what libertarians mean today, a government that does … Continue reading

The New Sexual World We Have Made and the Return of the Culture Wars

In the last fifty years, we have seen a dramatic transformation in both relationships between the sexes and our relationship to sexuality. No one thinks that there is any likelihood that we will return to traditional practices and beliefs. But in the last few months Republican candidates have tried to reignite the culture war that has accompanied these transformations.

One reason that traditionalists continue to call the changes of the last fifty years into question is that of those of us who have turned away from traditionalist ideas don’t give as deep a defense of the new world we have made as we could. We defend sexual freedom, feminism, and the acceptance of homosexuality mostly by talking about the ideals of freedom, individuality and autonomy. The traditionalists answer that those modern ideals are empty and low, a mere excuse for doing whatever we want to do. And they claim that the changes in our lives are deeply in conflict with the ideals of love, marriage, and the care of children. Of course we, too, seek love, marriage and the care of children. But we haven’t asserted as strongly as we should or could that our ideals are not only fully compatible with but enhance our prospects for love, marriage and the care of our children.

This essay sketches a new theory of sexuality that underlies an account of the new sexuality we have been creating as we throw off traditional ideas and build a new way of integrating sexuality into our lives. It’s based on my forthcoming book, Civilization and Its Discontents: Reflections on Sex and the Culture Wars. focus in the essay on Continue reading

In Philly, we need transparency in criticism as well as budgeting

Some critics of Mayor Michael Nutter are calling him out for hiding a real estate tax in his new budget since the budget proposes that after the new market based system of setting property values is put in place, tax rates will be set so that the city takes in an additional $90 million in real estate tax receipts. There is a just a little bit of truth in the criticism. But most of it is really just hogwash.

Why the debate about contraception is so important

I’ve heard from some people in the last few weeks who have asked me why I’m so focused on issues like contraception when we are in the middle of a titanic struggle over economic inequality in this country. This is what I tell them: Two hundred years from now, when the historians write about the time of my life, the first, second, and third things they will discuss is the impact of feminism on ending three millennia of oppression of women. Compared to the changes on our lives wrought by feminism, the rise and fall of communism and the travails of social democracy are historical blips. I care deeply about economic inequality. But the central moral issue of our time is the status of women. And that is what makes issues like abortion or even contraception hard. Some politicians who are otherwise progressive supporters of the rights of women are not … Continue reading