Iroquois Twists

Sorry for the absence–I was on vacation.  To start off another season of The Non Sequitur, here's our favorite pseudo-intellectual, George Will on the constitutionality of health care legislation.  I wonder if we have a case of the slippery slope here:

Although Democrats think their health-care legislation faces smooth sailing to implementation, there is a rock dead ahead — a constitutional challenge to the legislation's core. Democrats who assume it is constitutional to make it mandatory for Americans to purchase health insurance should answer some questions:

Would it be constitutional for the government to legislate compulsory calisthenics for all Americans? If not, why not? If it would be, in what sense does the nation still have constitutional, meaning limited, government?

Supporters of the mandate say Congress can impose the legislation under the enumerated power to regulate interstate commerce. Since the New Deal, courts have made this power capacious enough to include regulating intrastate activity that "substantially affects" interstate commerce. Hence Congress could constitutionally ban racial discrimination in "public accommodations" — restaurants, motels, etc. — as an impediment to interstate commercial activity.

Opponents of the mandate say: Unless the commerce clause is infinitely elastic — in which case, Congress can do anything — it does not authorize Congress to forbid the inactivity of not making a commercial transaction, of not purchasing a product (health insurance) from a private provider.

One reason we might call this a slippery slope is that Will's objection hinges on permissiveness: if we allow activity x, then we will eventually have to allow absurd activity y, as they are fundamentally or in principle no different.  Permitting the one–the (sometimes subsidized) purchase of health insurance) will logically compel us to permit the other (the mandatory practice of morning jumping jacks).  The argument, then, isn't against the current proposal, it's against exercise, which will follow logically from the current proposal.  

Well that's just dumb.  There are lots of arguments against the current lame proposal in Congress.  This is not one of them. 

8 thoughts on “Iroquois Twists”

  1. Notice, though, how Mr. Will does not phrase it in an slippery slope manner. The "then we will eventually have to" is your contribution. I'm not saying that his rhetorical question should be read literally, he is definitely implying something, but my guess is that he is not implying it in the way you construed.
    He is using an analogy that, besides not being watertight, is somewhat silly. But is an analogy, not an "if A, then next thing you know B, and will eventually end up to unwanted C". His contention is more like: "A would be much like B, in its essential characteristics, so if one accepts A, s/he should do so with B".

  2. Hi argumentics, you're right to point out my addition.  I think, however, Will means to argue slippery slope style, though he doesn't provide the temporal component usually associated with this particular falalcy.  I would add on that score that many (though not all) slippery slope arguments are analogies anyway–at least in the mind of the one making them.  Compulsory exercise and compulsory health insurance purchasing are sufficiently analogous, in Will's mind, that one cannot allow the one without allowing the other.  They're analogous in general outline, but at the moment no one sees it.  If we allow such permissiveness, so the reasoning seems to go, then there's nothing stopping compulsory exercise.  In a similar way, if we allow man-man marriage, then we have to allow man-turtle marriage, as they are sufficiently analogous, etc.

    And I think that that was "central to my point. . . . " by which I mean this: we can argue slippery slopely without the temporal or causal component.  Maybe I'm wrong about this contention.  Maybe it's pointless, but that's what it was.  Nonetheless, you've given  me something to think about.

    Thanks for the thoughtful observation.   

  3. I'm sure overweight congresspersons will allow the Jumping Jack Bill to sail through just as easily as well-insured congresspeople allowed the health care bill to sail through.

  4. Hi Argumentics–sorry if the comment process here is laborious.  We're working on it.  Your original comment was retrieved from SPAM.  Just keep trying.  I monitor the spam folder.

  5. Ok, so I will rewrite. 🙂
    I had said somehing like this:
    "In some respects, you are right. The bottom line natural "beginning" of a slippery slope is an (explicitly or implicitly held) analogy. Nonetheless, the two types of arguments differ essentially in that they do not "do the same thing". I saw the "Douglas Walton" link on the right so I will take a dare and put it this way: it is the difference between gradualistic and case-based reasoning (the slippery slope being the former). They are much alike, but what makes them dissimilar is (1) what can we hold the speaker accountable for – what is he presuming- and (2) what critical questions should/can we apply – how should we evaluate them.
    I'm not saying that this is so. I'm saying that this is how Douglas Walton would (in an outburst of weblog ventures) probably say"
    Hey, I remembered much of what I had said!

  6. Those are good observations Argumentics.  I'm not entirely on board with the Walton approach here, but again, youi've given me something to think about.  Thanks again (and thanks for being patient).

  7. The drugged up delusionals of the far right believe it is illegal or unconstitutional for Americans to have government financed health care. But in their twisted minds it is perfectly OK to have American taxpayers finance Europe's or Israel's government provided health care. This type of thinking illustrates what they used to call  ''a mind on drugs''.

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