Do non-libertarians actually care about the new health care law's individual mandate to purchase health insurance? Kevin Drum doesn't think so:
Conservatives have no problem in general with mandating behavior. Nor do they have any problem with mandating affirmative behavior. In the context of healthcare reform, many of them have supported the individual mandate in the past. And the smart ones, at least, understand perfectly well why a mandate is necessary in order to make the broader healthcare reform package work.
Their opposition isn't based on any special principle. It's based on the fact that (a) they don't like healthcare reform and (b) people don't really like being forced to do stuff. This makes the mandate a convenient point of attack. Most non-libertarians don't really care about the mandate [bold added], but once Glenn and Sean and Rush have them suitably foaming at the mouth about Barack Obama's relentless attack on all that we hold dear in this country, getting them upset about the mandate is a pretty easy upsell.
But you can't just say this, even though it's plainly true. You have to pretend to take conservative arguments about this seriously. You have to write detailed responses, complete with quotes from law professors and health experts. You have to pretend that this is an actual issue, not just a handy attack point.
It would be tough to argue that there's no political motivation to attacks on the mandate by GOP politicians. And he's right that GOP politicians haven't exactly been bastions of consistency on the issue: As Matt Miller notes, in the past, some Republicans (mostly those who lean toward the moderate side) have supported a mandate. But just because some Republican politicians are using the mandate as a path to political gain doesn't mean that no one in the public at large cares about the provision.
Perhaps this is just me projecting my own libertarian concerns onto the general population. But if you look at polling both before and after law's passage, the mandate has always generated strong negative responses. Back in January, for example, a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found that the mandate was the least popular element, with 62 percent reporting that it made them less likely to support the law. In August, another Kaiser poll found that 70 percent opposed the mandate. When that 70 percent was further asked how their opinion would change upon hearing "that without such a requirement, the cost of health insurance would rise substantially for many people," 72 percent said they would still view the provision unfavorably. Maybe that's all a result of Republican hype. But I find it hard to believe that a big percentage of the public dislikes the mandate so vehemently that they'd be willing to accept "substantially" higher health insurance costs to get rid of it, yet they also don't really care about the issue.
Are some GOP elected officials playing politics with the mandate? Almost certainly; after all, playing politics is what politicians do. But their strategic flip-flops don't change the fact that the mandate is an issue that resonates strongly and negatively with a lot of the public.