It’s quite hilarious really, watching the idiot Obama apologists crow over today’s Supreme Court ruling upholding as constitutional what’s come to be known as “Obamacare”. They really think this is some sort of conclusive victory for them in the war they’re waging for the nation’s soul. I would say if it’s a victory, it’s something like the one that Mexican general Santa Ana won in the Battle of the Alamo. It will only serve to inflame the ire of the defeated, and focus their efforts on winning at the polls what they lost before the Court. Remember the Obamacare Ruling! will perhaps be their rallying cry.
In case you’ve wisely been ignoring all this, let me give you a thumbnail sketch of the politics behind the Supreme Court ruling today. First, Obama undertook to do what Hilary couldn’t almost as soon as he was elected–pass a comprehensive health care and health insurance reform act. He managed to do so in 2010 in a virtually straight party-line vote because Democrats at the time controlled both houses of Congress. The mid-term elections of November 2010 saw Republicans take the House and gain enough seats in the Senate to prevent much of anything new passing (due to filibuster rules), and had Obamacare not squeaked in before the mid-term elections, it surely would never have passed.
The legal challenges to the Act started almost immediately, most of which were directed against its requirement, starting in 2014, that everyone would be required to purchase health insurance, on the pain of being assessed a “penalty” by the federal government (the “individual mandate”). The main legal question before the Court was whether it was within the purview of the federal government, under the auspices of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause allowing it to regulate interstate commerce, to mandate participation in commerce. The Tea Party and its ilk howled that it was a broad overreach of federal power. Lawyers arguing the case for the government had really no answer before the Court as to why it wasn’t. Even Wickard v. Filburn was no help to them. Wickard, a Supreme Court case from the New Deal era, held that the federal government did not go too far in exercising its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce by regulating the growing of wheat, even if the wheat were grown only for personal consumption. Wickard represented the extreme limits of federal prohibitory powers in the regulation of interstate commerce. Obamacare, with its individual mandate, was not prohibitory, but mandatory, forcing individuals to engage in interstate commerce whether they wished to do so or not, like telling someone they had to grow wheat, or as was parried about during oral arguments, like mandating the eating of brocoli.
Chief Justice Roberts, voting in a 5-4 decision with the liberal wing of the Court to uphold the law, issued an opinion stating that indeed, the individual mandate was unconstitutional so far as the Commerce Clause was concerned. But he went further, upholding the Act because the individual mandate nothing more or less than a tax, and the federal government’s power of taxation is much broader than is its power to regulate interstate commerce. Holding that the individual mandate violated the Commerce Clause was dicta, a wink at his Republican supporters, as he was carrying the water for his side, presenting the upheld Act to the polity for final dispensation in November’s election. His “swing” vote with the Court’s Democrat/liberal wing also gave the Court’s Republican/conservative wing cover to oppose the act while not hurting Romney’s election chances.
It was a brilliant political move, especially the part about renominating the individual mandate as a “tax”. Obama and the Democrats had been steadfast in claiming throughout deliberations leading to the Act’s passage and all the way through oral arguments before the Court that the individual mandate was not a tax, knowing full well how the idea of imposing a health care insurance tax would play in Peoria. Roberts is an astute political jurist, which is to say, he is well capable of devising defensible legal arguments to advance his (and his party’s) political agenda, which is precisely what he did here. He gave his party legal ammunition in the battle against the Act as a broad overreach of federal power by proclaiming it violated of the Commerce Clause, while also providing political armament to the cause by upholding the law as permissible because the individual mandate was a tax, implicitly recognizing the Act was exactly what Democratic pols claimed it wasn’t–the first step towards nationalizing the health care delivery system.
The thing that baffles me is how the liberal wing of the Court was so easily bamboozled. Surely they had to know how their siding with Robert’s opinion would reverberate in the presidential campaign. (And don’t even try to consider that their votes were “principled” or based on their close application of the law to the facts–this case was about political opinions and nothing else.) But perhaps the liberal jurists knew exactly the effect the ruling would have on the campaign, and figured this was payback for Mr. Obama’s open disrespect and disregard for the Court. Obama has gone so far as to have intentionally embarrassed and shamed the Supreme Court in front of a national television audience while they were attending one of his State of the Union addresses. Obama’s political swagger and immaturity got the best of him that night, as he openly lamented the Court’s ruling in a campaign finance case. It is never wise to make the entire cadre of a putatively co-equal branch of government your enemy. So on second thought, maybe the liberal wing of the Court wasn’t bamboozled at all, but acted as brilliantly as Roberts in voting to uphold the law (for which their constituents will give them credit) , but for the wrong political reasons, handing the issue to Obama’s opponent on a silver platter.
Romney has got to be thanking his Mormon God for the aid Chief Justice Roberts and the liberal wing of the Supreme Court gave to his campaign.
Incidentally, about six weeks after his victory at the Alamo, Santa Ana’s Mexican forces were defeated and the general himself captured in the Battle of San Jacinto, as the Texian forces rallied to avenge their loss with the now familiar cry to “Remember the Alamo!” Sometimes the worst thing can happen in a war is to win a battle.