By now you've heard it plenty: The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This creative bit of dot-connecting began with President Obama, and has been perpetuated by countless talk-show hosts and their guests.
By implication, to oppose Obamacare is tantamount to opposing civil rights, which, roughly translated in this country, means being racist. This may not be what Obama intended, but if not, it was accidental brilliance.
On "Hardball" this week, as Chris Matthews was cross-examining a guest about the constitutionality of the insurance mandate, he asked whether she thought the Civil Rights Act was constitutional. After all, that piece of legislation (correctly) forced businesses to sell goods and services to people they otherwise might have chosen to deny access.
This would be a dandy argument if the two issues were remotely related. Yes, they are similar inasmuch as the federal government imposed laws on individuals related to personal decision-making. And yes, those decisions revolved around commerce. But zebras and dogs are also similar and yet we know they are not the same animal.
The health care mandate forces business and individuals to buy something against their will. The mandate facilitates access to health care the same way being pushed off a diving board facilitates swimming. It may prove effective -- or not -- but it shouldn't be confused with civil rights.
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that Americans oppose the law 52 percent to 41 percent. And 67 percent believe the Supreme Court should toss the law or at least the mandatory portion.
This is hardly a national endorsement of Obama's health plan. Nor, however, should it be construed as permission for Republicans to continue pretending that the American health care system doesn't require any government attention, as they did until Democrats seized the issue.
The problem of access to affordable health care is nothing to shrug about. By all means, let's work toward making an exceptionally good system better -- but without the pandering shibboleth of health care reform as a civil rights issue.
That some can't afford insurance or are denied coverage through unemployment surely can be addressed in other, more creative ways. Americans love the portability aspect of Obamacare, but this could have been accomplished without restructuring a huge swath of the economy based largely on projections and assumptions.
As a selfish human being, I want everyone to buy insurance. I also want nearly everyone to drop 20 pounds, exercise 45 minutes daily, abstain from drugs and cigarettes, drink no more than five ounces of red wine daily, get eight hours of sleep, eat a diet of mostly grains and vegetables and avoid all sugars. This would do more to improve health and reduce the need for medical care than anything else on the planet. Shouldn't we start there? Doesn't it violate my civil rights to have to subsidize the consequences of other people's irresponsible choices and lack of discipline?
This much we do know: Civil rights activists who were beaten, bloodied and killed in the struggle to have a voice were nothing like the bureaucrats and politicians who insist that the health reform law is a comparable victory. The Civil Rights Act was a monument to freedom and human dignity. Health care reform is something else.
Well-intentioned though it may be, the Affordable Care Act is not about human freedom. It is, in fact, quite the opposite.