Broccoli Becomes a Symbol in the Health Care Debate

The vegetable is used in arguments over the potential power of Congress.

During Supreme Court arguments on the Affordable Care Act, Justice Antonin Scalia used broccoli as a symbol to make a point about the potential power of Congress. (Photo: Richard Clark/Getty Images)

Jun 22, 2012
Kelly Zhou has written on a variety of topics for TakePart, predominantly politics, education, and wildlife.

How did broccoli, a much-disliked and often neglected vegetable, become entangled in the health care debate?

It may seem strange, but broccoli is being called a new “defining symbol” for the Supreme Court case regarding the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s health care bill, The New York Times said.

During the recent Supreme Court arguments over the bill’s constitutionality, Justice Antonin Scalia made the analogy that if Congress can make Americans purchase health insurance, could it force people to make other choices, like buying broccoli? In other words, the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act is being criticized for the power it’s extending to Congress.

“Everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli,” Scalia said to Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli.

Verrilli, defending the Affordable Care Act in front of the court, disagreed with the broccoli analogy, The Wall Street Journal reported, making a distinction between the food market and the health care market: “The food market,” he said, “while it shares that trait that everybody’s in it, it is not a market in which your participation is often upredictable and often involuntary.”

Promoted mostly by conservative and libertarian media and politicians, the broccoli analogy has met criticism and derision in both legal and political spheres. Some have emphasized the simplistic nature of the argument.

Nonetheless, the image of broccoli makes for a memorable and easy-to-relate symbol that may stir up extra controversy while the country awaits the Supreme Court’s ruling. Interested in the history behind this analogy? Check out The New York Times’ article, “How Broccoli Landed on Supreme Court Menu.”

What do you think about broccoli being a metaphor in the health care debate? Let us know in the comments.

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