John Adams and the Affordable Care Act.

Here's something I'll bet you didn't know: The Founding Fathers supported government-mandated health care. Rick Ungar of Forbes unearthed this bit of history (via Greg Sargent):

In July of 1798, Congress passed – and President John Adams signed -"An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen." The law authorized the creation of a government operated marine hospital service and mandated that privately employed sailors be required to purchase health care insurance.

Keep in mind that the 5th Congress did not really need to struggle over the intentions of the drafters of the Constitutions in creating this Act as many of its members were the drafters of the Constitution.

And when the Bill came to the desk of President John Adams for signature, I think it’s safe to assume that the man in that chair had a pretty good grasp on what the framers had in mind.

As a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, I say...Who cares?

Don't get me wrong -- it's an interesting story, and it is indeed something you could throw back in the face of someone who argues that the Founders would never have countenanced the shiv to the heart of liberty that is the ACA's individual mandate. But the broader point is that we can't decide questions of contemporary policy by trying to figure out what Jefferson, Adams, and Madison would say about them. We don't know for sure, and we can't know for sure, any more than we can know whether Gouverneur Morris would have opted for an iPhone or an Android phone. We live in a world that is unimaginably different from the one they lived in, with our computing machines and horseless carriages and a million other social, political, and technological developments.

It's tempting to play the Tea Partiers' game on this if you find the ammunition -- few things are more fun then hoisting your opponents on their own petard -- but it doesn't do much good in the long run. The "originalist" position, whether in law or policy, is just indefensible. No sane person can believe that if we just read the Constitution or find a nugget from something the Founders did, all of our policy choices will have only one answer. And joining in the right's Founding Father fetishism is a mug's game.

-- Paul Waldman

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