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Point: Opt out is a cop-out


Keith Eakins July 1st, 2010

On Nov. 2, the citizens of Oklahoma will vote on whether to approve a state constitutional amendment that prohibits "forced participation in a health care system." Passed by the Oklahoma Legislature a...

On Nov. 2, the citizens of Oklahoma will vote on whether to approve a state constitutional amendment that prohibits "forced participation in a health care system."

Passed by the Oklahoma Legislature after failing to override Gov. Brad Henry's veto of a similar statute, the initiative is essentially a protest against national health care reform. It's kind of like a high school kid rallying his football teammates, proclaiming: "Coach, two-a-days are brutal. We don't want to slide into a damp jockstrap from this morning and practice. We'd rather go to the pool and flirt with girls."

The idea is pointless, flawed and simply asking for trouble.

The measure is aimed, in part, at the federal provision requiring the purchase of health insurance. This is understandable, as everyone hates being forced to pay for something they can't enjoy.

If people could find a way to not pay income taxes that didn't result in sleeping with one eye open and clutching a shiv in a dank, cramped room with a stainless steel toilet, most would do it. Professors know college kids from time immemorial hate spending money on textbooks and assess the cost of everything in terms of beer. It tears their hearts out being forced to blow four kegs worth of cash on arcane theories of chemistry, philosophy and principles of microeconomics.

People simply resent the government, parents, girlfriends, anyone telling them how to spend their hard-earned money. Yet mature adults realize that sometimes authority " including the dominant role of the federal government in the constitutional hierarchy " demands respect, even if it means accepting the enforcement of controversial federal laws.

Yes, readers, this commentary writer knows what you're thinking, and no, the federal government is not the same as a parent, football coach or girlfriend.

It's difficult to imagine loving, fearing or wanting to go to second base with Congress. And yes, the analogies used here are silly and imperfect. But the Constitution states unequivocally that federal law is supreme. States are powerless to nullify federal laws, just as adolescents are powerless to ignore the mandates of their parents and football coach. So regardless of one's opinion of health care reform, they should realize this initiative is political grandstanding " a waste of time, money and effort.

Oklahoma faces a myriad of challenges, so it's hard to understand the value of devoting precious resources to something so futile. This writer is not advocating that people not question health care reform. To the contrary, it is what citizens should be doing. Teachers of politics are thrilled to see people educate themselves through consulting credible sources " crazy Uncle Fred doesn't count " and participate in the political process.

Public policy should always be scrutinized, refined and changed if needed. And certainly there are plausible legal arguments that can be raised against the national health care insurance participation requirement (although they face long odds given the broad regulatory power the Supreme Court has allowed Congress under the Constitution's Commerce Clause). But these arguments are already being litigated in the proper forum: the federal courts, which have the authority to determine the constitutionality of federal laws.

Curious students have inquired about the costs to put this issue on the state ballot. Although difficult to measure, it's likely a lot of kegs.

Eakins, who holds a doctorate, is professor of political science at the University of Central Oklahoma and an Oklahoma City resident.
 
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