CAPE ELIZABETH — I grew up in Boulder, Colo., in the mid-1960s and early 1970s. The Woodstock generation was in full roar.
In my daily walk home from kindergarten, seeing college students and hippies holding signs and protesting was as common as watching “Hogan’s Heroes” or “Star Trek.”
The music my mother played featured Dylan, Santana and The Band. Reading material covered “I’m OK, You’re OK,” Castaneda’s “Travels of Don Juan” and later Gloria Steinem’s Ms. Magazine.
When it came to film, my mother halted the consciousness-raising. So “Paint Your Wagon Red” and “Patton” were the raciest movies my brother and I saw until “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Looking to sum up the moral and cultural climate of that era, and fit it on a bumper sticker, is pointless. However, I can fairly say the freedom to “do your own thing” was in high regard, be it to drop out of college, smoke grass, live in a tepee or volubly question “The Man.”
The concert at Woodstock in 1969 deserved reverence, even if the doo-wop band Sha Na Na landed on live albums from the event. A generation had its shared capstone for spiritual expression and anti-war speech, and the freedom to cast off narrow-thinking ways.
Scroll forward to Thursday, April 1, when The President of the United States visited Portland to reaffirm support for the health care legislation recently passed.
I’m no fan of the new law for many reasons, but I’ll stick to one that hit me as I stood on Park Avenue with other people opposed to the new rules. As the ticket-holding attendees left the Expo, I saw a bearded, white-haired man in his 60s, flashing a peace sign. Here was irony decades in the making.
The new legislation dictates we all have insurance worthy of government approval. If one works for a living, there are various ways to get insurance, through an employer or on your own. But if you fail to get insurance deemed up to snuff by our beloved bureaucrats in the nation’s capital, you have to pay a fine. You’ll pay it to the “The Man,” or the Internal Revenue Service.
Unless you’re Amish, if you fail to pay the IRS fine, the IRS will send another “Man” to get the money out of you or put you in jail. You will now have health care at the point of a gun. If you don’t work and have no money, health insurance is covered for you — that’s where the freedom to “do your own thing” kicks in.
So the Woodstock generation dotted the crowd at a rally backing legislation that can put me in jail if I don’t buy “appropriate” health care.
Hey, didn’t they face the draft and compulsory military service? Couldn’t buying health insurance be compulsory?
Take a quick look at the U.S. Constitution’s enumerated powers of Congress: Raising and maintaining a military is listed there plain as day. But requiring somebody to own a residence, a car or health care is nowhere in a document that required 15 years to draft. Those prerogatives are reserved to either the states or individuals themselves.
There are limits to what we want the federal government telling us to do, right? Isn’t the draft gone? And wasn’t Prohibition a good example of the practical limits on the federal government to determine what’s best for millions upon millions of people?
When I speak with fans of the health care legislation, their eyes roll in exasperation at mention of the Constitution. See, a clear set of rules is annoying when your intentions are good.
In fairness to the Obama administration, every presidential administration in my lifetime has had conflicts with the Constitution. But that doesn’t mean I like this conflict, either.
Excuse me, but is a constitutional race-to-the-bottom what we wanted?
Let’s skip the constitutionality of the health care legislation for a moment and admit we’ve landed in curious times: The freedom-lovers of Woodstock past are the gray-haired statists of today.
I miss the hippies who loudly questioned “The Man’s” authority to tell people what to do with their lives.
Come back, we need you.