Ruling divides court, nation

Published 8:40 pm Saturday, June 30, 2012

For both supporters and detractors of the controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, there is confusion and uncertainty in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday that the cornerstone legislation of President Barack Obama’s term is constitutional.

One thing is absolutely clear, however: This nation is divided as never before. That division was apparent even in the split nature of the court itself, whose justices voted 5-4 to put their seal of approval on what has come to be known as Obamacare and whose opinions on the legislation revealed a veritable chasm between the two sides regarding the nature of rights and responsibilities under the U.S. Constitution.

The divisions seem to be reflected in just about every facet of American society. Regarding the health care legislation, itself, for instance, small businesses seem generally worried about their ability to expand and hire new workers under the new rules. The health care industry, on the other hand, seems to look at the new law more positively. Conservatives view it as an assault on the Constitution, liberals as a compassionate response to the growing problem of uninsured Americans.


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But the divisions don’t just stop at health care.

By separating Americans into the “99 percent” and the “1 percent,” the Occupy movement promoted an us-versus-them mentality that suggested an unrealistic portrayal of the true national divisions in the putative pursuit of an egalitarian society. In reality, though, the real divisions in America are about far more than the billionaires and the rest of us.

Consider this: Roughly half the nation’s citizens pay no income taxes each year. The other half supports American programs ranging from defense to welfare. In what is likely a related development, a George Mason University study reported earlier this year that nearly one in three Americans now receive some sort of means-based government assistance, like Medicaid or food stamps. Adding in those who receive Medicare, unemployment checks, Social Security or other government benefits, the number of Americans dependent in whole or in part on the federal government reaches almost 50 percent, according to the same study.

The debut of nationalized health care is sure to increase the number of people receiving government assistance. Will we one day finally be united in our dependence on the government to meet our daily needs? When the “99 percent” finally represents the portion of Americans receiving some sort of financial assistance from Washington, D.C., what will become of the 1 percent?

According to the results of a Gallup poll released in August last year, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as “moderate,” politically speaking has fallen to the mid-thirties during the past 20 years, with those identifying themselves with the more-partisan “conservative” or “liberal” labels continuing to grow.

What separates us, however, is more than politics. What separates us is our understanding of the function of government. It’s a question, frankly, that goes back to the founding fathers, who were divided among Federalists and Anti-Federalists even as they crafted the Constitution that serves as the law of the land today. The tensions between those groups almost derailed the process of nation building right at the foundation of the republic, and the Constitution that emerged was a careful compromise between the groups.

We have ventured far from that careful compromise in the ensuing centuries. And our differences have become ever more pronounced as the two sides of the debate have become ever more entrenched and as partisans have sought to push the boundaries ever farther apart.

Thursday’s ruling came as a surprise to many on both sides of the political divide. But it’s a perfect illustration of the state of the nation today, both in the divided nature of the vote itself and in the way that vote has divided the nation.