Bill Kristol is a conservative political analyst. He was Chief of Staff for former Vice President Dan Quayle, founded The Weekly Standard, and regularly appears on Fox News.
Harvard Political Review: Can we expect to see more paternalistic laws and actions, as with the recent Kennedy School’s smoking ban?
Bill Kristol: This reflects a shift towards government telling us what to do across an amazing number of things, especially when related to health. You can say one person’s illness costs other people money, as with secondhand smoke. The questions should be how much you defer to government experts’ decisions, and how many liberties we give up for regulations. There has certainly been a growth in soft paternalism, with fancy justifications that aren’t harsh, making it more congenial and compatible with a liberal democracy. I believe that Obamacare, with its panel of experts and incentives, is the high water mark of this.
HPR: The Supreme Court is currently deliberating Obamacare. Does the administration have reason to be confident?
BK: I don’t think anyone should be confident. No one knows what the Court will do. I think however that the White House has shown how shoddy their constitutional justification was. The Court may decide it’s better to err in upholding federal legislation. But, the case exposed several things, namely how little the administration takes the constitution seriously, and how extreme Obamacare is in going beyond normal government meddling, with the individual mandate exemplifying that.
HPR: If Obamacare is struck down, what actual bearing would this have? And, would this count as judicial activism, something many conservatives are opposed to?
BK: It’s very hard to predict the political implications of striking something down. However, it’s not fair to call this judicial activism. There are a million laws, and judges can uphold them or strike them down. But this one went farther than what anything else has in terms of the individual mandate. The administration’s allegations are a bit ridiculous in claiming that it’s judicial activism for the Court to strike this down. It’s very healthy for this debate to exist. But government does need to be limited. Paternalism has run amok.
HPR: If Obamacare is upheld, what resistance will we see?
BK: The Republican Presidential candidate will have to say that Obamacare remaining constitutional is very unwise, and that we should elect a Republican President and Congress to repeal it. That will be exciting and dramatic. The bad news from a Republican point of view is that if it is constitutional, that will give it legitimacy. The burden will then be on Republicans and conservatives to say, “Look, fine, the Court upheld it, but it’s a bad idea and we need to repeal it.”
HPR: In a recent article, you attributed the 2010 Republican takeover of the House to Obamacare. If that is true, would the Court upholding the legislation bode well for Republicans?
BK: It’s possible: I can argue that either way. Placing a seal of legitimacy will make it the central issue of the 2012 campaign, which is good for Republicans. Striking it down however would make it less of an issue. It’s hard to predict the political fallout.
HPR: Speaking of 2012, you have been criticizing Romney for favoring mandates and a technocratic approach to health care, very similar to Obamacare. You said that Romneycare worked, but that things have changed dramatically over the past six years. How has it changed?
BK: Romneycare is defensible because there were state level health care problems at the time. Now, people see limits to such programs. That’s where the conservative movement is now, and Romney’s had some trouble catching on to the idea that people want to challenge the welfare state and the technocratic attitude behind it. He might still be a good President, one who can preside over reforms in that direction, of which some might be pushed over Capitol Hill.
This interview has been edited and condensed.