James Madison was a very large political figure and is arguably the one person most responsible for the development and survival of the national government in the early days of the Republic. He had a very close personal relationship with Thomas Jefferson but that doesn’t mean they shared the same views on the evolvement of government in everyday life. Madison was interested in order whereas Jefferson believed order would be best achieved if government left things as much alone as possible. I consider Madison as more of a moderate concerned with immediate practicalities, with Jefferson more interested in maintaining limits. Also within Jefferson’s sphere of influence was James Monroe who had formed close relationships with both men, but Madison’s pursuit of order and ensuring the survival of the national government that lead to the Constitutional Convention and the ratification of the Constitution strained that relationship. With Monroe taking the anti-Federalist view, he and Madison drifted apart, even becoming political adversaries for a time, until the burning of Washington City in the War of 1812 when Monroe helped Madison recover from the devastation of the capitol and to revive his Presidency.
The dynamic between these three men is striking because while they were all personally close, they had a wide range of views and disagreements among them regarding the activity of government. The only view missing from this group of men was that of those who believed in strong government all the time. I believe this dynamic can bring some useful insights when considering the dynamics between Democrats and Republicans, and conservatives and liberals. It highlights what I find refreshing about the Madisonian approach to government, that it takes a rational approach to order while recognizing limits. The problem, however, is that it’s difficult to balance the need for practicality with preservation of limits and keep it that way.
Thinking in terms of ObamaCare, for instance, James Monroe likely would have opposed it without troubling himself with considering possible merits. Jefferson likely would oppose it due to lack of authority. I believe Madison would have also opposed it, but would have looked for ways to achieve the same goals without upsetting the balance between practicality and limits. Others with the view of strong government, perhaps like Alexander Hamilton, would support it as is. When Hamilton introduced the excise tax on spirits, for example, he brought in health experts who testified that suppression of alcohol consumption would improve public health and used it to employ the heavy hand of government (through the taxation power), resulting in multiple rebellions with the most notable being the Whiskey Rebellion which was violently suppressed.
So which view of ObamaCare from the perspective of the various views of founders is the correct one? If there is a “correct view,” I find myself hovering around the Madison view, partly because I suspect that past interference in the health care industry on the part of those more of the Hamilton view has contributed to distortion of market pricing. If that is the case, the only thing that could possibly be accomplished by ObamaCare is to make the pricing problem worse with the inefficiency of command and control, and spread the cost across all participants, willing or not, to produce the illusion of lower rates; which I don’t believe is successful or ever will be. There are plenty of moral hazards that come with it as well, such as the necessity to standardize and ration care to support the illusion of lower prices, and the political issues involved when government gets to pick and choose what kinds of treatments are given. The debates about birth control are just the beginning of it. I find it all quite distasteful and unnecessary. Hence, my disappointments that the Supreme Court did not take a Jeffersonian approach in its ruling. It’s not that I prefer the Jeffersonian approach to the problem, but it would get the Hamiltons within the government off our backs, which would have been the right decision for the Court to make if it were concerned about doing its job, preserving the balance between practicality and limits.