It's an absurdity that the federal government has the right to make Americans buy health insurance, but what's worse is the ha, ha, ha of the left that free people making their own decisions about the way they live is selfishness or shibboleth.

Heed that shrug of the shoulders- especially in the context of nanny-state interventions quietly disposing of all kinds of small freedoms all about us - and you have a taste of what's to come if the Democratic darlings of the left stay in power in the elections this year and in 2012.

It's not just that the Democrats give hints every day of cracking down on radio speech, of denying workers' rights in union formation and of hitting us with excessive new environmental, energy and financial regulations. The scary part is that this insurance mandate underlines that they have no use for limits of any kind, not even those spelled out in the Constitution.

The insurance mandate is justified by them in part by the commerce clause, which states one of the powers the Constitution gives Congress while it simultaneously says there are no others. This power is in part to "regulate Commerce . . . among the several states . . . "

Clearly, simply, understandably, this clause is about commerce over state lines. It's about having the states abide by rules helping to give us a prosperous economy. For a good part of the country's history, that's how the courts saw it, but then came the New Deal with ambitions that exceeded constitutional barriers. Not only did the FDR administration cite the commerce clause as the justification for laws having nothing to do with interstate commerce, but President Franklin Roosevelt threatened to pack the Supreme Court with additional justices when it balked. Roosevelt dropped the threat but the court saluted.

Courts have zigzagged since then, but some recent rulings underline that if Congress is going to cite the commerce clause as justification for a law, the law had better concern economic activities that clearly impinge on interstate commerce.

Congress can't just say any old economic activity affects interstate commerce, because there is precious little in our lives that is not an economic activity one way or the other. Whether or not you buy health insurance has about as much to do with interstate commerce as whether you buy galoshes, and if the government can regulate our purchases of private products, Katie bar the door. There will then be nothing it cannot regulate.

The other excuse for the mandate is that the penalty for not buying health insurance is that it is not a penalty. It has been designated a tax, and taxes, it is argued, are clearly allowed under the Constitution. This is so bogus as to make you want to disbar any lawyer who says as much. Calling something a tax does not make it a legitimate tax and does not exclude it from other kinds of considerations, and those who say so have no more credibility than President Obama promising he would never tax anyone making under $250,000 a year.

While a number of state attorneys general are suing to overturn the insurance requirement and other mandates, the betting is that the courts will not intervene on something this big. But how about rescuing the citizenry from the oppression sneaking up on us the way the poet Carl Sandburg said the fog comes, on little cat feet? The left does not think that important, but surely it still counts for human beings to have liberty enough to discover their own lives. Doesn't it?

Examiner Columnist Jay Ambrose is a former Washington opinion writer and editor of two dailies. He can be reached at: