As Janis Joplin famously sang, "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose." Who knew that poor Janis was singing the same song unwittingly sung today by conservative politicians attacking universal health care? Critics of the dreaded health-care reform think Americans will be robbed of their freedom if the legislation isn't overturned, either by themselves or the U.S. Supreme Court.
Well, totalitarian nations are not oppressive because they take care of the sick. If memory serves, they just throw people into a jail cell and let them get sick.
The critics further believe that the Constitution, a document ordained and established, among other purposes, in order to "promote the general welfare," as its preamble says, would be violated if the general welfare were promoted by means of universal health insurance.
How puzzling it all is. While I am not a lawyer -- and thank goodness; my old mother suffered enough -- it seems to me that it wouldn't be the worst affront to freedom if someone who had no ability to get health insurance were to be covered thanks to a well-intentioned law.
Why, this could even appeal to conservatives who believe America is a "Christian nation." They might logically support it in the spirit of the Gospels and their examples of healing the sick and binding up wounds. But, no, apparently only the Bad Samaritan exists in their Bibles.
Ironically, the most controversial piece of health-care reform -- the individual mandate -- was hatched by conservative thinkers. It is now deemed socialism on the theory that everything President Barack Obama does is socialism because conservatives long ago decided he is a socialist. Socialism is as Obama does. The only hope for them is that Obama Derangement Syndrome is covered under the new law.
So it is timely and fortunate that the nine justices of the Supreme Court convened this week to consider all the arguments, holding the Constitution and the law up to the candlelight to search for hidden defects. Americans do need at this hour completely unbiased, sage jurist-scholars who have put aside all pre-existing legal theories.
Instead, we will have to make do with the justices currently on the bench -- the majority of them handpicked by presidents in the hope of weighting decisions to favor certain extreme political views.
Gosh, how will Justice Clarence Thomas vote? A curious nation holds its breath. As for me, I am sure he will completely disregard the fact that his wife is a supporter of the Tea Party movement (motto: "We have our health care and to heck with everyone else").
But in the unlikely event that the court approves of the law by reading the Commerce Clause and understanding that health care is indeed a huge business with its effects crossing state lines -- the first thing medical staff do to patients in the doctor's office is examine their wallets -- freedom will still be alive and well in these United States.
And, no, the government won't be able to legislate the universal eating of broccoli or the driving of hybrid cars because they are just ridiculous examples thought up by right-wingers to frighten gullible people into rejecting the new law. This fear-mongering suggests that Americans have become so stupid that making sensible distinctions is no longer possible.
Granted, that may be partly true -- witness how "freedom" and "liberty" are the most abused words in America. Conservative politicians in particular are masters of cloaking everything they do as acts of protecting or encouraging freedom. But usually their sense of freedom is highly restrictive. Their freedom may not be your freedom.
When they seek to cut regulations and red tape, they encourage the freedom of big companies to do as they will, but this is not necessarily the freedom of ordinary people to breathe fresh air or to have clean water.
And now the old freedom drum beats again to drive away universal health coverage, the absence of which can make any person unfree, a mere slave to circumstance, receiving care in a crisis that is usually too little, too late and paid by the premiums of everyone else.
They would have us go back to the good old bad days, with millions permanently uninsured, with existing preconditions sentencing many to death, with hopeless families going bankrupt paying for unexpected medical expenses, with premiums always soaring, with freedom just another word for nothing left to lose.
If there's to be no comfort in the Constitution, pass the Southern Comfort, Janis' favorite. It will be the only comfort for millions.
Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.