Before the Supreme Court’s oral argument on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, I was told by people I trust that Paul Clement was an outstanding lawyer. He proved it. The New York Times’ coverage of one exchange illustrates why.

Reporter Adam Liptak, after claiming that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s “touchstone and guiding principle” is liberty, went on to write this:

The point was not lost on Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who concluded his defense of the law at the court this week with remarks aimed squarely at Justice Kennedy. Mr. Verrilli said there was “a profound connection” between health care and liberty.

“There will be millions of people with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease,” he said, “and as a result of the health care that they will get, they will be unshackled from the disabilities that those diseases put on them and have the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of liberty.”

Paul D. Clement, representing 26 states challenging the law, had a comeback. “I would respectfully suggest,” he said, “that it’s a very funny conception of liberty that forces somebody to purchase an insurance policy whether they want it or not.”

Clement is quite correct; it is a very funny conception of liberty. A distorted one, in fact. And it perfectly represents the intellectual state of modern liberalism, where coercion is synonymous with liberty.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the times.