The United States Constitution has taken on major significance in the health reform debate, with grassroots "teabaggers" calling universal health care -- and indeed, much social spending -- unconstitutional. In a piece for the Daily Beast, I reported on how this Constitutional originalism is borrowed from the Ron Paul campaign. (Ironically, many Paulites and teabaggers, while complaining that the Constitution doesn't explicitly provide for a universal health care system, would like to amend it to ban abortion. They can't seem to decide if the document ought to be interpreted strictly or loosely.)
Considering the current foment around Constitutional interpretation, it was poignant to see the House of Representatives pass yesterday, on a voice vote, a bipartisan resolution recommending that every high school in America devote one week each fall to teaching seniors about the Constitution. Resolutions, of course, are non-binding and mostly symbolic. And who doesn't support exposing students to their government's foundational document? What's more surprising is the partnership between the two co-sponsors of the resolution: Ron Paul and freshman Democrat Alan Grayson, a member of the Progressive Caucus who recently hired Netroots blogger Matt Stoller as a senior policy adviser.
Grayson and Paul agree on some issues. Both are staunchly opposed to Obama's policies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Paul told me several weeks ago, "You can’t keep expanding a war in the Middle East and pretend you can come up with a $2 trillion medical-care program." In a Vanity Fair interview last May, Grayson said, "What I care about is our surviving these difficult economic times, and when I’m asked to vote for $100 billion to extend occupations that fundamentally served no purpose that could not be accomplished any other way—in lieu of spending for the things that human beings need...I have to say, 'No, there’s a better use for that money.'”
On health reform though, the two politicians are polar opposites. Grayson's press secretary, Todd Jurkowski, says Grayson has hosted four health reform town halls in his Florida district, and that at each one, the congressman was confronted by health reform opponents waving the Constitution. Like Ron Paul, Grayson carries a copy of the Constitution with him. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and clerked on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals before going into business.
"The Congressman knows the Constitution," Jurkowski says. "From the Congressman's point of view, the preamble itself is one justification for health reform," since it vows to "promote the general welfare" of the American people. "So is the interstate commerce clause," Jurkowski added, which allows for national markets such as the proposed health insurance exchanges.
If more students read the Constitution in school, perhaps some will come around to Grayson's way of thinking. But in the end, debates over the Constitution and health care are less about logic and the law than about activist attempts to paint the concept of universal health care itself as un-American and "socialist."