Policy

We're Living in Tuttle's (Or is it Buttle's?) World Now

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There aren't any negative legal consequences, but I'd still be careful, if I were you.

One of the genius elements of the insanely wonderful/wonderfully insane movie, Brazil, is the representation in the film of a repressive state as essentially an exercise in banal bureaucracy. There is nobody to hold accountable, no specific policy to protest, and even violent, misfired police raids are exercises in wrongly processed paperwork that — so sad, too bad — mistakes Mr. Buttle for Mr. Tuttle. A strong argument can be made that, with ObamaCare and the Supreme Court decision that upheld it, we're living in Mr. Buttle's world now.

The sort of reasoning that brought us this verbiage, courtesy of the majority opinion, provides revealing insight into the modern authoritarian state:

None of this is to say that payment is not intended to induce the purchase of health insurance. But the mandate need not be read to declare that failing to do so is unlawful. Neither the Affordable Care Act nor any other law attaches negative legal consequences to not buying health insurance, beyond requiring a payment to the IRS And Congress's choice of language—stating that individuals "shall" obtain insurance or pay a "penalty"—does not require reading §5000A as punishing unlawful conduct.

Really, that's brilliant! Once upon a time, authoritarians overtly made you do something. You had to carry a card, sign a document, or otherwise engage in conduct that, should you be so inclined to throw yourself into the maw of the machine, could be resisted with a grand gesture. You could burn your draft card, refuse a signature or stubbornly and openly fail to comply. And the state would acknowledge the grand gesture with some over-the-top arrest, and a trial at which your principled act of resistance was met with specific charges targeting the same.

But "Neither the Affordable Care Act nor any other law attaches negative legal consequences to not buying health insurance, beyond requiring a payment to the IRS"? Really? Suddenly it's just a tax matter. Refuse to buy insurance as mandated by the state and…your tax refund gets reduced. Carefully calibrate your taxes so there is no refund and your wages get garnished. Take it the extra step and…the most you can accomplish is an arrest for refusing to pay taxes, No principled opponent of government-dominated health care, you—just another tax dodger. It's a charge well-removed from the target of defiance, which leaves the principled dissenter flailing at nothing more than smothering red tape.

Brilliant. Really.

You could say that it's cowardly of modern politicians to hide behind the bureaucracy and refuse to confront their detractors head-on, but these are people more concerned with control than courage.

And in their world, Mr. Buttle — and dissenters of all sorts — are just paperwork concerns.