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Wrong veggie chosen to fight health law

Posted: July 12, 2012 - 12:05am

The following editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Now that the Supreme Court has upheld health-care reform, President Obama can get to the next logical order of business: compulsory broccoli purchases.

Absurd? Tell that to the Supreme Court, which cited the vegetable no fewer than a dozen times in its ruling last week on the Affordable Care Act.

Not so long ago, when no legal scholar believed the health-care law faced a serious constitutional challenge, the broccoli question sprouted as conservative reductio ad absurdum: If the federal government could force us to buy health insurance, why couldn’t it make us buy broccoli?

Inexplicable hostility to broccoli has a history in Republican politics. George H.W. Bush famously provoked the wrath of California farmers with such statements as, “I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”

It was Justice Antonin Scalia who brought broccolism into the upper echelons of the judiciary, posing the broccoli question during oral arguments on the health-care law. By Thursday, the whole highest court in the land was seriously grappling with the issue.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion made the lion’s (rabbit’s?) share of the mentions while attempting to explain why broccoli is not the same as health insurance — a fact that’s ceased to be obvious in rarefied legal circles.

In the process, the justice suggested a range not only of preparation possibilities — steamed, deep-fried, raw — but also emotions. While she described conservative fears of “the broccoli horrible,” she also allowed that a person might have “a craving for broccoli.”

That raises a question: Was broccoli really the most horrible vegetable conservatives could come up with? And would they have managed to topple Obamacare if their worst-case hypothetical produce mandate had been a more unredeemably revolting and offensively elitist vegetable — like, say, kale?

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